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Men of Bronze: Celebrating 10 Years

Men of Bronze: Celebrating 10 Years

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by Scott Oden

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Leading the fight to preserve the soul of Egypt is Hasdrabal Barca, Pharaoh's deadliest killer. When Greek mercenary, Phanes, defects to the Persians, it triggers a savage war that will tax Barca's skills, and his humanity, to the limit.



Leading the fight to preserve the soul of Egypt is Hasdrabal Barca, Pharaoh's deadliest killer. When Greek mercenary, Phanes, defects to the Persians, it triggers a savage war that will tax Barca's skills, and his humanity, to the limit.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 526 B.C., the kingdom of Egypt is decaying, threatened by treachery from within and by a massive Persian invasion from without. Hasdrubal Barca, a Phoenician mercenary in service to the pharaoh, has sworn to protect Egypt's eastern border from Bedouin marauders and foreign invaders. Fueled by a secret, personal tragedy, Barca is merciless and cunning in battle, feared by enemies and his own men alike. But he's steadfastly loyal to the pharaoh, so when he discovers that a powerful Greek mercenary garrison is plotting to betray him to the Persians, Barca must act to save Egypt from invasion. The traitorous Greek commander, Phanes, learns that Barca knows of the plot, so he sets his plan in motion early. As Barca and Phanes maneuver to thwart each other, the Persians draw closer, and an Egyptian priest, Ujahorresnet, conspires to exact revenge for a 20-year-old grudge. Pharaoh is weak, with a few loyal subjects competing with traitors and assassins for his trust. Amid this court intrigue, an educated slave girl, Jauharah, emerges to help Barca protect the pharaoh and save Egypt. Barca and Jauharah fall in love, which results in profound and tragic changes for both. Oden's masterful story of bloody battles, political intrigues, betrayal and romance offers a gripping portrait of the collapse of an empire. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"Oden's masterful story of bloody battles, political intrigues, betrayal and romance offers a gripping portrait of the collapse of an empire."  —Publishers Weekly

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Read an Excerpt

Men of Bronze

By Scott Oden Medallion Press, Inc.
Copyright © 2005
Scott Oden
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-932815-18-4

Chapter One The City of Lions

In the blue predawn twilight, a mist rose from the Nile's surface, flowing up the reed-choked banks and into the ruined streets of Leontopolis. Remnants of monumental architecture floated like islands of stone on a calm morning sea. Streamers of moisture swirled around statues of long-dead pharaohs, flowed past stumps of columns broken off like rotted teeth, and coursed down sandstone steps worn paper-thin by the passage of years. As the sky above grew translucent, streaked with amber and gold, a funerary shroud settled over the City of Lions, a mantle that disguised the approach of armed men.

From the desert came two score and ten dark shapes, clad Greek-fashion in leather cuirasses and studded kilts, Corinthian helmets perched atop their foreheads. Bowl-shaped shields hung from their shoulders by gripcords of plaited hemp, freeing each man to wield a short, recurved bow. They moved in earnest, silent, a company of phantoms drifting through the fog.

The Medjay had come to Leontopolis.

Medjay. The soldiers bearing this appellation were the most savage of Pharaoh's mercenaries. They were a cadre of outcasts, criminals in their own lands, who banded together under Egypt's banner to dedicate their lives to the gods of violence. The emblem painted on their shield faces, the uadjet, the all-seeing Eye of Horus, symbolized their task as guardians of the eastern frontier. Pharaoh paid them to be vigilant, to crush any intruders before they could reach even an abandoned ruin such as Leontopolis, and he paid them well. This time, though, the Medjay had failed their royal paymaster.

To a man, they froze as the rasp of metal on stone drifted through the mist; instinctively, their eyes sought out the massive silhouette of their commander. Phoenician by birth, Hasdrabal Barca ruled the Medjay with the tigerish strength of a born killer. Spear, arrow, torch, and sword, all this and more had touched his flesh, leaving behind the indelible scars of a lifetime spent waging war. He disdained a helmet; long black hair, shot through with gray, fell over his face as he stood with head bowed, straining to hear.

The clatter came again, followed by sibilant cursing.

Barca looked up; his eyes turned to slits, like splinters hacked from the iron gates of Tartarus. He motioned, and a young soldier, a Libyan, edged up to his side. The Phoenician dragged his index finger across his throat in a chilling pantomime. Nodding, the soldier handed his bow and shield off to another, removed his helmet, and drew a curved knife from the small of his back. Beneath a thatch of sandy hair, plastered with sweat, the young Medjay's eyes shimmered with anticipation as he crept off to do Barca's bidding.

Raids like this were nothing new. The desert-folk of Sinai, the Bedouin, encroached on Egypt's borders every season, fleeing tribal feuds or seeking succor from generations of drought. The Medjay turned most back at the Walls of the Ruler, a line of ancient fortifications stretching from Pelusium on the coast, along the Bitter Lakes, to the Gulf of Suez. A few, though, slipped through the Medjay's nets to plunder the border villages. Such was the fate of Habu, south of the vale of Tumilat, on the shores of the Great Bitter Lake.

Habu lay on the patrol route between Sile and Dedun, on the Gulf; it was a small village of two dozen mud brick huts clustered around a brackish well whose inhabitants mined salt in the nearby hills. The Medjay, following the Bedouin's trail, found Habu in ruins. Barca recalled the mound of severed heads in the village square, the corpses left to rot in the merciless sun. The men were killed outright, the women raped and mutilated. Even the children....

Barca's scout returned as quietly as he had left. He made a show of wiping his knife on a Bedouin headscarf.

"You were right," the scout, Tjemu, whispered, "they are the Beni Harith."

"How many?" Barca's voice did not carry past the Medjay's ear.

Tjemu nodded back the way he had come. "Maybe twice our number, camped in a square some hundred yards beyond a causeway of crouching stone lions. Their pickets are asleep. Careless bastards."

"They're not expecting us." Barca's jaw tightened; deep in his soul he felt the Beast stir, flexing its claws. Even the children.

"Fan out!" he ordered, raising his fist.

Sinew creaked as the Medjay bent their bows.

* * *

The Bedouin camp stirred and came alive. The younger men fetched water from the Nile's bank while their elders sat in council before the camelhair tent of their shaykh, Ghazi ibn Ghazi. Four of his brothers, an uncle, and seven nephews reclined on their blankets, talking in low voices about this last stage of their journey. Spear butts and sheathed swords clattered on the cracked paving stones; tethered camels bawled, as unhappy about the claustrophobic mist as their masters were.

Ghazi ibn Ghazi plucked a date from a wooden bowl and popped it into his mouth. Age, sand, and sun had left his face fleshless, seamed, an uncured hide stretched tight over a frame of bone. His eyebrows and beard were gray and sparse, his shoulders stooped, calling to mind a wizened shoemaker rather than a Bedouin war leader.

"This place is accursed!" the man on his right said, with all the frustrated weariness of one who had not slept soundly in days. He wore clothing similar to his Bedouin companions - robes of grimy brown wool and a once-white head scarf held in place by a leather band - but his accent and manners marked him as a Persian. "It is fit for jackals, perhaps, or Bedouin, but it is no place for a man of refinement."

Ghazi grinned. "Where are your balls, Arsamenes? Have you Persians become so civilized that you can no longer stomach the hard road?"

The Persian, Arsamenes, leaned forward, helping himself to the dates. His eyes, small and dark, flickered up to the Bedouin's face. "We could have been done with the hard road, and in Memphis already, had you not stopped to glut yourself on that flyspeck of a village."

At this, the other Bedouin ceased their own conversations. This was not the first time the Persian had broached that topic.

"I told you before," Ghazi said quietly, "Habu is none of your concern."

"Will the Medjay not notice the slaughtered villagers? Will they ignore the spoor of a hundred camels leading in country from Sinai? You fool! Everything about this mission is my concern! You have jeopardized it, and I want to know why!"

The old shaykh sighed. From other tents, he heard voices, muffled laughter, and the slish of blades on oiled stone. "It was an old debt," Ghazi said, finally. "In my youth, a man of Habu shamed a girl of the Harith. We could not pass them by without exacting our vengeance."

Arsamenes' face darkened; his close-cropped beard bristled. "You put the honor of a two-shekel desert slut over the interests of the King of Kings?"

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 of pleasure 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 al-Saffah, 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.

Barca, with a bellow of rage, gave chase.

* * *

The battle became a rout; the rout, a slaughter. Memories of the burning huts of Habu, of the children left to rot in the sun, sealed the Bedouin's fate. Barca's soldiers ranged the field with vengeful purpose, mutilating the dead and slaying the wounded, despite their cries for succor. As the rising sun crested the distant hills, searing away the mist, silence came again to the City of Lions.

Tjemu, his back against a crumbling obelisk, snatched a bloodied turban off the ground and knotted it around his punctured thigh. "Sand-fuckers!" he hissed. He had made it through the battle with only cuts and scrapes until the very end; until an injured Bedouin lurched up and rammed a broken spear through his leg. The blade missed the great artery, though a savage twist left him with a hole the size of a child's fist. The Bedouin who speared him, a beardless boy barely out of his teens, lay crumpled at his feet, the Libyan's sword still wedged in his skull. Tjemu spared him a single pitiless glance.

The ebb and flow of battle carried Tjemu to the edge of the square, its stones littered now with the detritus of war: broken and discarded weapons, hacked shields, bodies and parts of bodies, all of it stewing in pools of blood and bowel that gathered in the low places. He recognized friends among the slain. Gambling partners, drinking companions, and sword brothers lay supine now, staring at the azure sky with glazed eyes. The Libyan felt a pang of regret which lasted only a few heartbeats before he succumbed to the satisfaction of being alive. The Medjay, finished with their murderous rampage, saw to their wounded. Some bound their cuts; others sat very still, sipping water or wine. In the shadow of a leonine statue of the goddess Sekhmet, he saw the old Canaanite, Ithobaal, crouching over a corpse. Of Barca, he saw no sign.

Tjemu limped to Ithobaal's side. "What did you find, old man? Loot, I hope."


Excerpted from Men of Bronze by Scott Oden Copyright © 2005 by Scott Oden. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Scott Oden has worked the usual variety of odd jobs: delivering pizza, driving a truck for a printing company, and clerking at a video store, just to name a few. Now a full-time writer, Oden lives in rural North Alabama, near Huntsville.

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4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a novel more than this one. And imagine my surprise to learn that Scott Oden is a first-time author! Mr. Oden handles his debut, this epic of immense scope, like an old pro. The story succeeds on three levels. First, as a visceral action yarn that should satisfy fans of even the most hardcore swashbucklers. Secondarily, as a stunning period piece that transports the reader back in time to an era of ancient Egypt that has seldom been written about. Lastly, as a character study. Oden's characters are not the stereotypes one often encounters in historical adventures such as this one. They are real people with real hopes, fears, dreams, strengths, and shortcomings. And Oden knows how to pluck at the heartstrings, too. I haven't cried while reading a book since Gus died in 'Lonesome Dove,' but I cried at the end of 'Men of Bronze.' A fantastic debut.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Egypt is crumbling. Hasdrabal Barca, a border soldier sworn to protect Egypt from outside invaders, finds himself the one person who an save the empire from internal treachery. I¿d recommend this Men of Bronze to anyone who¿s ever spent a day overdosing on the History Channel. Scott Oden does an amazing job of immersing his reader in the lush world of ancient Egypt without bogging down the swordfights, ambushes and massive battles that make up the book¿s fast-paced core. Oden gives his hero the love interest and tragic history which seem to be pretty much required for heroes these days, but he¿s able to do it without either seeming forced or cliched. (Also, Men of Bronze includes a chronology and 20-page glossary of Egyptian terms at the back of the book. An great idea that I hope catches on with other historical novels.) Definitely five stars. An exciting, unique read that won¿t rot your brain like The Di Vinci Code.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 526 B.C. in Egypt, the kingdom is in deep trouble with duplicity from the inner circle of dying Pharaoh Khnemibre Ahmose abetting an immense deployed Persian force prepared to invade. Phoenician mercenary Hasdrubal Barca, loyal to the Pharaoh, leads the military defending Egypt's eastern flank normally from Bedouin raiders but now prepares for the Persians................. Barca is the best leader when it comes to war as he shows no mercy to his own force let alone the enemy. He learns that a critical Greek unit commanded by Phanes has joined the other side plotting to assist the Persians at a pivotal moment. Being at a strategic locale, this treachery could destroy the kingdom, which has a newly anointed Pharaoh. Barca feels he must protect Egypt, but Phanes knows for his nefarious scheme to succeed he must eliminate the only person who could save the kingdom Barca. However, the wannabe savior has no allies even amongst those still devoted to Egypt except an Arabian slave Jauharah who Barca loves, but questions her loyalties.......... MEN OF BRONZE is a terrific insightful Ancient Egypt historical thriller. The story line provides a deep look at Egypt at a time when a Pharaoh who ruled for over four decades dies and is replaced by a shaky newcomer at a critical point in time when the Persians are coming and an empire is on the brink of collapse. Scott Oden provides a deep look at court pageantry and in counterpoint devastating battles while the romance between the finely developed lead couple enhances the era. The inner circle intrigues including treason augments a deep look back over two and half millennium ago...................... Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down at all. Addicted to it as if it were drug. Everytime I had to put it down, I got really sad and couldn't keep my mind off from the book. Mr. Oden has done such a wonderful job portraying the heros Barca, Juahara and Callisthenes, and the wrenches like Unjahorresnet and Phanes. I almost came to tears at the tragic ending of the book. Lamenting over the fall of the empire and the deaths of so many heroes. Can't say enough of good things about this book. Highly recommended to everyone who loves to read. A warning: be sure you have the time to read it from cover to cover in 2 days. You won't be able to put it down. Elaine
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well researched with a wonderful story line. Will satisfy both the history buff and those seeking adventure. Read this!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this after reading memnom. Wish i did not waste my time in this one
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The-Nuge More than 1 year ago
First off, I enjoyed it. I thought the story was well developed, easy to follow, and fun. The characters were interesting and entertaining, the plot was (as above) easy to follow and well developed, and even the writing style wasn't quite the same old, same old-- not exactly fresh and original, but not really boring and bland either. It's a good book well worth reading, fun and enjoyable. If you're looking for something worth a couple days of reading (I finished it in 3), it's well worth your eight dollars.
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