Staella picked up her Court Dancer plushie and held it carefully by the waist. “I have been sent as a gift from the great Lord Kass,” she said in as sweet and sly a voice as she could manage. The Zafara, painted plushie herself, bent the Court Dancer into a graceful bow. “I would like to dance for you.”
Staella’s hands flew to the plushie of King Skarl, which was sitting next to a nightstand a few feet away. The Zafara had constructed the royal court by placing a round red rug on the floor, as well as placing the blue Skeith plushie on a block that bore the letter S. “Oho, a dancer!” she bellowed in a deep voice, jiggling the plushie’s belly with a small finger. “Yes, please dance for us! I was getting very bored just sitting here stuffing my face.”
“Very well,” Staella said in her sweet voice. Guided by nimble hands, the Court Dancer plushie began to waltz smoothly in a circle on the soft red carpet, twirling and spinning for the king.
Like the cold blade of a knife, a new sound pierced the air, carrying dimly up the staircase and through the open door. Staella could hear raised voices and angry, indistinguishable words from the room below.
The dancing plushie was still for a moment. Staella stood up quietly and tiptoed to the door, closing it tightly and blocking out the noise. The Zafara turned her head and stared out the window for a brief moment, watching the soothing deep blue of the evening sky slowly fade into darkness. She sighed and padded back to her place on the rug, lifting the Court Dancer plushie once more. “Do you like the dance?” she asked slyly, slipping back into character with practiced ease.
“Yes... very... much...” droned Staella, the overstuffed blue plushie of the king slumping off of his building block throne. Staella carefully leaned him on his side, letting the portly monarch drift into an enchanted sleep, most likely filled with drumsticks and mashed potatoes. Staella giggled at the thought, the angry voices forgotten as the barriers of her imaginary Meridell Castle were put up once more against the pain that lingered outside.
Staella crawled over to another corner of the room, where she had piled her school books to make a sort of chamber. The Lisha plushie sat against the makeshift walls of the grand library, her tiny black eyes scanning the shelves of countless old volumes. “There must be a spell in here somewhere,” said Staella, using her normal voice for Lisha. “I’m sure that Court Dancer is up to no good. I’m the only one who can stop her.”
The plushie Zafara delicately moved one of Lisha’s hands and leaned it on one of the book walls, as if she were reaching into one of the imaginary shelves.
Staella made another journey across her small bedroom and found the Jeran plushie near the closet. “Lord Kass’s forces are upon us!” Staella cried in a heroic voice. “The townspeople are hypnotized by the spell of the Court Dancer! Only the brave and the true can help us now. I call all soldiers of Meridell. Take up your arms! We battle tonight!”
An assortment of other plushies were gathered behind the Lupe, and Staella did her best to imitate a rousing cheer. “We will defeat them! We fight for truth and love!” she said in a hoarse whisper that sounded fairly close to the roar of a crowd.
Staella scrambled over the floor on her knees and moved back to the library. “Aha!” she cried, holding Lisha’s arm out toward an imaginary book just as a clattering noise sounded from downstairs. The Lisha plushie froze in Staella’s hands as the Zafara heard raised voices from below, their words inscrutable but the meaning clear. They were punctuated with another crash that sounded like something breaking.
The plushie Zafara let go of Lisha and carefully lifted the Court Dancer plushie off of the red carpet. She slid the rug silently over to the door and poked it with her tiny hands, stuffing it in the gap between the wooden floor and the door, blocking out the angry sounds from downstairs.
“Aha!” she said again, grabbing the Lisha plushie. “I’ve found the spell that will save Meridell from the enchantment of the Court Dancer! I can only hope that it’s not too late.”
Staella moved back to the battle that was taking place just outside her closet. “They are near now!” she bellowed, holding Jeran’s sword arm aloft. “We are hopelessly outnumbered, with half of our kingdom bewitched by the enchantment, but we will still fight! No matter what happens, we will not let any adversity get in our way. We will gain victory over evil!”
Staella let out another cheer before opening the closet doors, revealing an assortment of torn or disfigured plushies that were the forces of Darigan. “You’ll never win,” she snarled, holding up a purple Skeith. “We will overwhelm you!”
“We’ll see about that,” Staella answered, her arms flying back to the blue Lupe knight. “Meridell, prepare to battle!”
Staella rushed back to the pile of books and grabbed the Lisha plushie, moving its legs as the Aisha ran from the imaginary library to the imaginary court of King Skarl, which was now even more necessary to imagine after Staella had removed the red rug. “I have to defeat her,” she muttered, the tiny nova wand raised aloft by two small fingers. “No matter what she does, I can’t let her win. Jeran needs me.” Staella took a breath, the excitement of one of her favorite moments in the story rushing through her veins. “I need to do what’s best for him.”
A door slammed from below, and Staella jumped. She was still for a moment, her eyes wide. The anticipation which had been bubbling over inside now drained away, but with a valiant effort the Zafara was able to muster up the good feeling once again, pushing away the pain that threatened to invade her thoughts.
After a few seconds, Lisha continued her journey. The Aisha burst through the invisible double doors and Staella cried, “That which is hidden cannot hide, where there is truth lies cannot abide...” She paused to recall the remaining lines, and the Zafara could hear heavy footsteps in the room below. “You from the king I must wean... Everyone here, let it be seen!”
Staella let out a wheezing gasp, and she threw the Court Dancer plushie to the floor. “What have you done?” she asked in as hideous a voice as possible, silently wishing that she could make her plushie turn ugly, as it was supposed to be according to the story.
“I have helped my brother,” Staella answered, lowering the nova wand in Lisha’s hand.
She hurried back toward Jeran. “Meridell, prepare to battle!” she cried, hoisting the plushie’s arm into the air.
Before the fight could begin, Staella scurried to the closet and grabbed a handful of the evil plushies. “What has happened?” she asked in a dazed voice. “Why are we fighting for Darigan?”
“The spell has been lifted!” she cried in the voice of the crowd. “The enchanted peasants and farmers have returned!” Staella let out another whispered cheer as the handful of plushies were set down behind Jeran.
“The numbers look much more even now.” Staella smiled, grabbing Jeran once more. “The tables have turned!”
“You will still lose!” said Staella in the voice of the Darigan Skeith. “Our forces are far superior!”
“You may be stronger,” said Staella in a deep, heroic tone. The Zafara’s heart began to beat more quickly as emotion rushed through her veins once more. “But we have something on our side that you will never have.”
“What’s that?” asked Staella in the Skeith’s voice.
“We have people who love us,” Staella answered for Jeran. She paused for a moment, holding Jeran’s sword arm up in the air, breathing slowly. “We have people who love us,” she repeated softly, this time in her normal voice.
The plushie Zafara wiped her eye quickly and blinked. She had never been good with battles; it was too hard to move all the characters around at once. Instead, Staella took a creative liberty and skipped ahead to the aftermath, with several of the plushies lying limp around the room, others resting in the infirmary on her bed, and Jeran and Lisha sitting together in the grand library.
“Thank you for saving us,” said Staella quietly, putting Lisha’s hand on her brother’s shoulder.
“No,” she said, shaking Jeran’s head. “Thank you, Lisha. Even though you are small, and even though you may not be appreciated by most people, I understand what you have done.” Staella paused. “You’re my little sister, Lisha,” she said in a low, gentle voice. “And I love you. You mean the world to me.”
Staella moved the two plushies together in a soft embrace. Footsteps pounded on the staircase outside, thundering up toward her bedroom door, and then turning off down the hallway.
Staella lifted Lisha and Jeran up out of the room that she had created with the pile of books and her own imagination. She pressed one against each of her ears, holding them tightly against her head, and closed her eyes.
The two plushies cushioned the sharp sound of a door slamming shut.