Here’s a short story for my 52 week writing challenge for the prompt “a retelling of a recent Hollywood movie.” I used a very loose base from this movie my friends and I saw in theaters to create this story. I wonder who can figure out what it is 😛
Val needed help, and fast. But no one was crazy or brave enough to take down the Wendigo’s clan. He ruled through fear, and rightly so. If his orders were disobeyed or someone insulted him in any way, that person became enemy number one, and things ended in the worst way for them. They called him the Wendigo for a reason.
The latest victim of the Wendigo’s tyrannical rule: Val’s brother Xavier. Xavier had been a soldier in the Wendigo’s army, and not by choice. Every day he was tasked with abhorrent orders, the kind that gave him nightmares and kept him fitful as he lay under the dark sky in the hut him and Val shared. Yesterday, it was the last straw. Xavier couldn’t take it anymore.
“You, soldier,” the Wendigo said to Val’s brother. “This young woman denies me what is mine. Let me deny her what is hers. Gather her children and slaughter them for the gods.” Everyone in the ranks stood in stunned silence.
Xavier had stepped forward and walked toward the shaking and terrified young woman. He made as if to act on his leader’s orders, but then turned and made everyone gasp. “No.”
The Wendigo rose from his throne and crossed his arms over his chest. “What?”
“I won’t kill innocent lives for your insatiable blood lust, you monster.” Xavier stood in front of the young woman like a shield.
Val tried to run forward to stop his brother from making a mistake, but someone’s arms wrapped around him and a voice whispered, “Don’t, you idiot. Or you’ll end up like him.” He still struggled, but to no avail.
The Wendigo’s booming, sinister laugh filled the hall. “Very well. Guards, take this insolent boy and his wench he champions so passionately to the keep. They’ll make a fine meal for the coming feast.”
And just like that, Val’s brother had been sentenced to satiate the clan leader’s hunger. It’s easy to rule the land when you’re a cannibal.
That was over a day ago. Now, Val rode his horse as fast as it could go, dashing through bramble, over cold, hard ground and jumping over fallen trees. He knew where he had to go to find saviors that would take on someone as insane as the Wendigo.
In just under 48 hours, he’d made it to the Isle of Exile, where all those who’d made minor transgressions against the Wendigo were sent to live out the rest of their lives, cut off from the clan. Even a cannibal couldn’t eat everyone. Things like petty theft or accidentally spilling his evening wine on him weren’t met with a death sentence. They just got kicked out of their family’s homelands for as long as they lived.
Val arrived in the Isle just before that night’s sun set. He’d known the way because Xavier had taken him along for his assignments several times. His brother was the one that escorted the exiles to their new residence. Val had a huge task to get their help now.
He stepped down off his horse a few feet out from the makeshift camp’s entrance and walked the rest of the way in. There were no guards blocking his way like back at his village. Getting around them to leave in the dead of night had been a chore.
It appeared he’d arrived just in time for dinner. The people he’d once known as his neighbors and friends and peers stared back at him now with hollow cheeks, scraggly hair and bent figures. Life outside of the clan was a hard one. They eyed him suspiciously as he made his way to the main hut on the other side of the camp.
Val’s palms began to sweat as he approached the hut. Before he could gather the courage to step inside, a tall, dark man came out first. He looked down at Val, surprised to see the little brother of a clansmen standing at his feet.
“Hi, Yomi. Long time no see.” Val gave a pathetic, nervous chuckle.
Yomi rolled his eyes and huffed. “What’re you doing here?” He looked beyond Val, eyes scanning the scene. “And without Xavier.”
“We need to talk.” Val meant business now.
“We,” he made a show of indicating his fellow exiles, “don’t owe you anything. You turned your back on us.”
“And I’m sorry about that. We were scared. But I’m here now, and I know it’s asking a lot, but I need your help.”
Yomi threw his head back in laughter. “Hear that, everyone? Val of house Zoraida is asking for our help.”
Several former clansmen hanging around laughed alongside their informal leader. “Kid, you got a lot of nerve.”
“Listen, Yomi. You know Xavier was only following orders. You know what the Wendigo is capable of.”
“I know damn well what he’s capable of,” Yomi snarled while pointing at the empty socket where his eye once was.
Val swallowed hard but forged on. “Well, Xavier did something stupid. He defied orders, and as a soldier of the Wendigo’s army, you know what that means.”
Yomi stepped back and raised his eyebrows. “Did he now? Well, hope the Wendigo likes his meat tough, ’cause that soldier isn’t going down easy.” He let out a loud guffaw and his peers followed suit.
“C’mon Yomi. We can’t just let him become the Wendigo’s dinner.”
“We aren’t your clansmen anymore, remember?”
“You were once.” Val stood his ground and never broke eye contact.
Yomi stared him down. “Why take the risk now? We got off easy. We’re safe.”
“No one will ever be safe as long as the Wendigo is in charge and you know that.”
“Not my problem anymore.” Yomi turned to walk away from Val, but Val put a hand out to stop him.
“You once told me family can be called on any time. I’m calling on you now.” His uncle stood at least a foot taller than him, but Val would not be intimidated.
Yomi furrowed his brows. “I called on you when I was exiled. Where were you and your brother then?”
Val dropped his head and whispered, “Scared kids trying not to die.”
They were at a standstill now. Val looked up at his uncle again. “Look, I know we let you down. And I’m the last person you ever wanted to see again. I get that saving Xavier means saving the man who brought you into exile in the first place. But that’s the point. This cycle never ends as long as the Wendigo rules. It was house Zoraida first. Then it’ll be another house. Another brother betraying his brother for safety. Don’t you get it? The system will keep going until it’s cut off.”
“And we’re the ones to cut it off, huh?” Yomi shook his head. “Even if I could get some of the guys here to rally, the Wendigo’s got an army. An army your brother was part of. How would we even overcome that force?”
“We probably don’t. We’ll likely die before saving Xavier. But aren’t you the one who said it’s better to die in stupid bravery than live in smart cowardice?”
Yomi gave his nephew a grin a mile wide. “So, Valiant finally lives up to his name. Why the sudden change of heart?”
“He’s got Xavier, uncle.”
“No. No, it’s more than that. What else has the Wendigo got?”
Val hesitated but decided to tell the whole truth. “Xavier refused to kill a woman’s children for the Wendigo. He took my brother and the woman as his prisoners to prepare them for his festival feast.”
“And who’s the woman and children?”
“My wife, Esther, and my kids. My family.”
“So the Wendigo’s got your wife and brother and wanted to kill your progeny. Yeah, that’ll change any man’s heart.”
“So, when do we start?” Val waited for his uncle to process the news.
“Give me tonight to gather our fighters and supplies. We’ll leave at dawn just you and me if we have to.”
Val nodded. “Thank you, uncle.”
Yomi patted his nephew’s shoulder. “We’re in for a long shot, kid.”
“It’s the only shot. We take what we get.”
Val barely slept or ate that night. He gave up on rest as the first rays of dawn broke and got up to get his horse ready to leave. It looked like it was just going to be him and his uncle Yomi.
As he gulped down some bland oats and water, Yomi approached with a band of the roughest looking clansmen he’d ever seen. “Well, here’s your army, Val. The men and women who will take on your suicidal mission.”
Val pulled his pack onto his back and ran a hand through his hair. “Seven guys.”
Two of the group cleared their throats and glared at him. “Five guys and two women,” Val amended. “Yep, we’re gonna die.”
“Now hold on,” Yomi said, “don’t be so quick to dismiss them. These clansmen were once your people too. And you remember the twins of house Balgar.”
Two identical men stepped forward and smiled at him. “How’s it going, Prince Valiant?”
Val rolled his eyes. “Yeah I remember they used to follow me home after school and beat me up.”
“Exactly.” Yomi clapped his hands together. “You know we’ve got brute strength in them. And there’s Calista. She’s always been an expert marksman—excuse me, markswoman. And we can’t go wrong with our resident pyromaniac, Dumar.”
His uncle went around reintroducing each face Val had once known when he was a child. These weren’t exactly the clansmen he was hoping to get on his side. They’d all been criminals and bullies even before the Wendigo came to town. Maybe it took bad guys to fight against a really, really bad guy.
“Hey, you said it yourself. We take what we get.” Yomi shrugged.
Val sighed. “Okay, let’s go team.”
They gathered in a circle and went over the plan of attack, Yomi making diagrams in the dirt and in turn making sure each team member knew their role. Val’s role was simple: the idiot brother calling out the Wendigo in defense of his family.
As they approached the guarded gates of the village, Val gave his uncle a stiff nod. He charged forward and made sure the guards caught him. “Come out, you fat coward. Come out and fight me if you’re a real clan chief.”
He struggled against the guards as they dragged him to the prison where his brother and wife resided. At least, he hoped they were still there.
Val’s plan was not in vain. He saw his family in the cells as the guards brought him in. Xavier ran forward and hissed, “Val you idiot, what’re you doing here?”
“Don’t worry, Xavier, I’m gonna save you,” he whispered back.
Xavier gave him a puzzled look.
“Just wait. You’ll see.”
His brother shook his head and muttered curses in their native tongue under his breath. Val ignored them and turned to his wife. “Esther, my love, are you alright?”
She nodded. “Val how could you be so foolish? Our children.” Esther’s voice gave out in anguish.
“Don’t worry, my love. They’ll be fine. I promise. We’re going to make things right.”
His two fellow prisoners said in unison, “We?”
Val nodded. He made sure the guards weren’t listening. “Uncle Yomi,” he said softly to his brother.
Xavier’s eyes widened and then blurred with tears. “Is he–? I mean, does he still–?”
“He’s family,” Val broke in to his brother’s confounded rambling. “We can always call on family.”
“So how are you helping if you’re in here?”
Before Val could answer, a commotion took place outside and the guards ran to find the source. “Show time,” he said to his brother and wife. “Stay down.”
They did as he told them and before they knew it the temperature in the prison seemed to rise. Overhead, light began to break through the ceiling shafts. A fire was burning through the roof.
A hole big enough to fit a person appeared and Dumar poked his head in. “Time to go.” He threw down a rope before Xavier and Esther could ask questions. They took it one at a time, Esther first, then Xavier and then Val.
They stood in confusion on the roof of the slow burning prison. “Dumar?” Esther was incredulous.
He winked at her. “Long time no see, eh, sweetheart?”
Val raised an eyebrow in question to his wife. She only blushed and looked down.
“We better get going. This roof won’t hold our weight for much longer,” Dumar broke in.
The group scrambled to find their footing and shimmy down another rope hanging over the north wall. Before Xavier and Esther could ask more questions, Val put up a hand to halt them. “Look, my first concern right now is getting you to safety.”
“I know you don’t mean me,” his brother interjected. “I’m gonna fight. Where’s the army’s position?”
Val made a face. “No army, brother. Just a bunch of rogues willing to die for a fight.”
“Good enough. I’m in.” Xavier crossed his arms over his chest the way he always did to indicate the end of an argument.
Val rolled his eyes. “Fine. But Esther, I’m going to take you to the children.”
She nodded. “Yes, please. I need to make sure they’re alright.”
Dumar took Xavier with him to the rendezvous point while Val led Esther away from the fray, into a secluded spot in the woods. There, they found their three kids huddled together around a village elder. “Thank the gods,” Esther cried.
“Okay, my love. I’ll leave you in good hands. I’ll be back when it’s over.”
She grabbed her husband’s hand. “Valiant, don’t go. Please. You’ll die.”
He tried to make light of it. “You have such little faith in me?”
“Val, you know what the Wendigo is capable of. What if you fail? What will become of us?”
“I’ve already arranged for an escape for you and the children if we don’t win this fight.”
“An escape for us, you mean.” She trembled.
Val shook his head. “No, my love. If we lose, I will die. I have no delusions of that.”
“Then why fight?”
“For all of you. For us. It’s time to fight for our right to live free from fear, even if it means death.”
“I can’t do this, Val. I can’t watch you go.”
“You must, my love. I’ll do my best to get back to you, but if I don’t, tell the children how much I love them. Always remember that.”
With that, he kissed her forehead and ran off into battle. Val wasn’t a soldier like his brother, but he was clever. He set traps that would slow down the enemy and help his team make headway to getting to the real threat: The Wendigo.
The fight seemed to go on forever, and somehow his rag tag group of miscreants managed to survive and take out a good chunk of the Wendigo’s soldiers. When a path was finally cleared, Xavier and Val made their way to the chief’s hall.
As expected he was well guarded, but Val had devised a plan to distract them. He nodded to Xavier and vanished to a shadowed corner while Xavier slowly made his way through the hall into the throne room.
In a few minutes, he heard a huge clang and saw the guards rush to the noise. Of course, one guard remained behind to protect the Wendigo, but Xavier wasn’t worried about him. He was a skilled enough soldier to take down one guard.
The Wendigo sat comfortably in his throne, his face placid but his eyes feverish and scanning the room back and forth. Like a panther in the jungle, Xavier jumped from atop a column he’d been hiding on and hit the guard directly on the back of the head with the hilt of his blade.
The guard went down in one stroke and the Wendigo rushed toward Xavier. The Wendigo tackled him to the ground and pinned him with the sheer weight of his body. Xavier struggled, losing air, but managed to hit his adversary just below the ribs, giving him a chance to escape and regain ground.
“So, you managed to escape. Had friends to help too, I see.” The Wendigo taunted Xavier.
“Guess I’m not the only one sick of you.” Xavier lunged forward and thrust his blade out but the Wendigo sidestepped him.
He didn’t get thrown off balance though. The Wendigo only got the chance of that once, and he already took it. Instead, Xavier bided his time, parrying and thrusting, getting a feel for the Wendigo’s movements and thought patterns.
“This game grows tiresome,” boomed the Wendigo’s voice.
“Then let’s end it,” snarled Xavier.
At that moment, Val came rushing in with his band of bad guys ready to ambush the Wendigo. Dumar and Calista double teamed to send flaming arrows at the Wendigo’s head, but even for such a large man, he moved swiftly, and escaped the attempts.
In came the Balgar twins pitting their size and strength against the Wendigo’s. The move was a minor success, as it made the cannibal stumble, teeter and totter. They pummeled him with their big, meaty fists and forced the Wendigo to retreat. Meanwhile, Xavier launched another sword attack, but the Wendigo regained his stance.
He knocked the twins off him and blocked Xavier’s sword with a metal staff he’d grabbed from a nearby post. With it he knocked Xavier back with a blow to the stomach. He brought the rod high over his head, angled down and ready to thrust it into Xavier’s back.
“Stop!” An unexpected cry from the hall’s doorway rang clear and made everyone halt in their tracks. Esther walked in, steady, hands up in surrender. “This is madness. You’ll never win. You’ll only die. Just give up.”
Val stared, mouth agape. Esther passed right next to him and gave him a look of deep sorrow. “I’m sorry, Valiant. I can’t let you die.” She stepped forward in front of Xavier, right in the path of the Wendigo’s rod. Val stood rooted to the spot, unable to believe what he was seeing.
She bent down on both knees, head bowed and began muttering an old prayer of forgiveness, as if she worshipped the Wendigo as a god. “Please, have mercy. Forgive them. Forgive us.”
The Wendigo lowered his arms and put the rod at his side, a sneer on his face. “Your woman pleads on your behalf. How Valiant can you be?”
As the Wendigo looked away from Esther, she raised her head and hands and threw a powder into his face, then dove to the side yelling, “Now!”
The Wendigo stumbled back, his hands clawing at his face. Calista knocked an arrow, drew the string back, and let her weapon loose. It soared in an arc in slow motion as it found its mark true, straight into the Wendigo’s chest.
Suddenly the substance on his face was of no concern. He dropped his hands, looking out at the rogues who’d defied him, eyes wide. A bubble of blood burst from his lips, and with that he fell to his knees, his hands searching for the wound on his chest. It was a fatal hit, straight to the heart. He keeled forward, face first into the ground, and not a single muscle stirred.
The weight of the Wendigo’s girth falling to the earth caused a rumble that everyone felt. The fighting din outside dulled and slowed until it stopped all at once. Dozens of soldiers flooded in to see what had happened and found their leader dead.
Some fell to their knees, their arms raised in praise for their freedom. Others immediately fled the scene, knowing well what their fellow clansmen would do to the Wendigo’s sympathizers. Val stepped toward Esther who was still laying across the floor on her side. He reached down and helped her to her feet. “How did you–?”
“You’re not the only hero in the family, Valiant.” She smirked.
Val grinned back and pulled her into a tight embrace. “My love, you were brilliant.”
“Did you have such little faith in me?”
“Never for a second.”
He laughed and kissed her.
Celebration ensued for the rest of that night and well into the next day. All exiles were welcomed back and given the chance to start anew under the rule of a council made up of the leaders of the rogues who had saved the clan. The unlikely heroes of the day were named official protectors of the village and honored with an annual feast day from then on out.