Scott Oden: Men of Bronze

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Scott Oden Men of Bronze
  • Название:
    Men of Bronze
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    Исторические приключения / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Ghazi's lips curled into a sneer. "The Harith are not slaves to your king, not like the Medes or the Parsi. We paid Cyrus his due because we respected him, but you would do well to remember not even your great king could conquer the People of the Sands. I have given the son of Cyrus my word to escort you to Memphis. After that. ." Quicker than his age belied, Ghazi drew his knife and put it to Arsamenes' throat. The Persian gasped, his body going rigid. "After that, you live at my pleasure, understand?" Arsamenes' eyes blazed. Without the slightest hesitation, he reached up and pushed Ghazi's hand away. "Cambyses will have your head."

"Finding it will not be difficult, eh?" Ghazi grinned, sheathing his blade. "Since it will be buried between the thighs of Pharaoh's daughter!" Raucous laughter erupted from the Bedouin; even Arsamenes smiled, though his eyes lost none of their fire. The tension broken, Ghazi's kinsmen stood and stretched, eager to be away from this desolate place, with its leonine statues and inhuman sphinxes. The shaykh gave orders for the tents to be struck, the small fires doused, and the sentries recalled.

Ghazi did not have the gall to call this gathering of his kin an army, though by Bedouin standards, it was a veritable host. He had seen true armies in his youth, armies drawn to the standards of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In comparison, his five-score would have been as a single grain of sand in the desert. Yet, he doubted the Chaldeans were more loyal to their king than his Harith were to him. They would ride to the gates of Hell, if he asked it of them. Pride swelled Ghazi's chest. With a thousand Bedouin, he could make Sinai a power to be reckoned with; with a hundred thousand, he could make the world an Arab playground. Someday, Ghazi told himself, someday …

Ghazi uncorked a skin of wine. He made to raise it to his lips, but stopped in mid-gesture, his head cocked to the side. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he sensed unseen eyes on him.

"What is it, shaykh?" Others, too, muttered their concern.

Ghazi's frown deepened. "Quiet. Listen."

Though he had seen no sign of it, Ghazi knew in his marrow the Medjay were in relentless pursuit, driven by that devil of a man, the Phoenician. If they were out there, this fog would work to their advantage. We should not have tarried here. Ghazi glanced around, his eyes coming to rest on his sister's son, Tajik. An unspoken question passed between them.

"Sounds like locusts," Tajik said. The young Bedouin craned his neck …

… and died as a bronze-tipped arrow split his skull.

A deadly hail rained down through the mist, punching through flesh and bone, shattering on stone. Arsamenes twisted with an agonized scream, clawing at the black-fletched shafts that sprouted from his back. Ghazi's frayed robe flared out behind him like misshapen wings as he leapt the fallen Persian and took cover in the lee of a massive lion-headed statue. All around, his Bedouin crumpled and died.

"Move!" he shouted, drawing his sword. "Move, you bastards! The Medjay are upon us! "


Baying like human wolves, the Medjay charged into the Bedouin camp, Barca at the head of a loose wedge of fighters. They cast their bows aside, drew their swords, and unslung their shields; men grabbed the flared cheek pieces of their helmets and tugged them down, transforming flesh-and-blood soldiers into the faceless cogs of a bronze killing machine.

The Bedouin did not stand idle. Though disarrayed by the sudden arrow storm, Ghazi's cry rallied their spirits. "Move, you bastards! The Medjay are upon us! " Young men and old snatched their weapons up and answered the Medjay's threat with the undulating shriek of the desert folk.

Time grew hazy, indistinct. Seconds took on the aspect of hours. In this last elongated heartbeat between life and death, a man's senses became painfully acute. Hereditary enemies stared at one another across the shrinking interval, teeth bared in snarls of hate, grimaces of fear. Thoughts of distant homes, long-lost loves, and forgotten embraces vanished beneath the adrenalin-laced pulse of blood lust. Neither side called for terms; none sought guarantees of mercy. This fight would be as savage and brutal as it would be short.

Muscles tensed. Weapons glittered. Lips prayed. Shields balanced.

And suddenly …

Medjay and Bedouin collided in a grinding of flesh and bone, underscored by the crunch of chopping blades and the screams of the dying. Swords flickered like lightning, crashing on shield and helmet, rasping on enemy blades. Men strained breast-to-breast, helmet-to-turban, a vicious mob fighting for purchase on the blood-smeared stones. The wounded collapsed, shrieking as they were trampled underfoot, dragging the living down with them. Iron punched and shattered, and blood flowed like wine at Hell's banquet.

No time to issue orders or ponder tactics, Barca plowed into the heart of the fight and trusted its outcome to the gods. The massive Phoenician roared and struck from side to side, dropping a man with each blow. A soldier of the Medjay stumbled against him, a spear buried in his neck. His killer's cry of triumph became a death rattle as Barca's scimitar licked out and sheared through his turbaned skull. The Bedouin called the captain of the Medjay al-Saffah, the Blood-letter; with each killing stroke, Barca demonstrated the truth of that sobriquet.

The Bedouin redoubled their attack. Bearded faces pressed in from all sides, visages radiating hatred and bloodlust. Frothing lips hurled curses as knotted fists hurled blows. Bedouin grew reckless, sacrificing their own lives in an effort to bring Barca down. A knife blade scored the flesh of his forearm; a sword rebounded from his shield. The Phoenician snarled. With a chilling cry, Hasdrabal Barca unleashed the Beast.

The Greeks called it katalepsis — demonic possession in the heat of battle, rendering a man insensate to the flesh, his own or his foes'. A berserk fury boiled up from the depths of Barca's soul, from a place only he knew. A fury stoked by memories that had haunted him for more than twenty years …

Moonlight pierced the darkness, caressing her thigh, her breast. A night breeze ruffled the gauzy curtains as she crawled to where her lover sat, arching her back like a cat in heat. He was Greek, perfumed and pomaded, a soldier in name only `Neferu, "he whispered with a smile, stripping off his linen kilt and leading her eager mouth to him …

Faces welled and ebbed around Barca. Dark features half-glimpsed, hands that grasped and tore. In that press of humanity, the Phoenician's body itself became a weapon. The hard bones of his forehead sent a Bedouin reeling; his elbow crushed a man's throat like a mace; his sandaled heel shattered a kneecap. Blood sprayed as his scimitar wove a web about him — a silvery cocoon as beautiful as it was lethal. Still, the Beast howled and gibbered in his brain …

The Greek rutted between her thighs, their sweat mingling, their cries ofpleasure echoing in the darkness. Neither of them noticed the door opening. They did not see the anguished eyes of her young husband, nor did they see as that anguish turned to a white-hot rage. Wordless, he moved to where the Greek's sword lay…

Through the red haze of katalepsis, Barca caught sight of Ghazi ibn Ghazi. The old Arab hammered a Medjay shield aside and slashed at the soldier's exposed neck. The man fell, spewing crimson. With a moment's respite, Ghazi's eyes gauged his Bedouin's odds as the armored Medjay scythed through them. His casualties were mounting. He spotted alSaffah and the look of pure hatred in the Phoenician's face struck Ghazi like a physical blow. He staggered, blood draining from his features and taking with it his courage. Ghazi ibn Ghazi spun and fled, leaving his kin to die beneath the blades of the Medjay.

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