All her life Nisla had wanted trophies. The Royal Skeith surrounded herself with talented friends, but had quietly envied their cabinets full with gleaming gold awards - for games, poetry, gourmet foods or even for making a few lucky guesses at Food Club. She herself had never attained one, and found this fact saddening and unjust - if she possessed just one trophy, it would be cleaned every day by servants, be the subject of much discussion and would have pride of place in her cabinet.
It was of this that she thought as she gazed evenly at her reflection in the mirror, smoothing creases in her dress or tweaking her crown slightly to a more flattering angle to her face. Just prior to leaving her palace, she re-applied powder to her white cheeks, and shot a dazzling smile at the looking glass. She could do this.
As she arrived at the Beauty Contest Hall in Neopia Central, her heart fell. A queue of at least one hundred Neopians and growing trailed from the entrance to where she stood in the grass. Nisla huffed to herself angrily - now she would have to stand for hours, making the prospect of her impractical ruby slippers even more unappealing. In front of her stood an anxious-looking young Red Skeith.
“How foolish he looks,” thought Nisla pityingly to herself. “It doesn’t seem as though he made an effort at all.”
Mentally she counted the Skeiths dotted around the grounds, discovering that there were thirteen competitors in her species category. It was unlucky for some, thought Nisla with a smile, but this should be easy peasy. She would finally have the trophy she so desired!
Upon receiving her name tag and mounting the podium in the hall, the Skeith was feeling slightly nervous, though she attempted to quell this with airy confidence. Very few voters had even paused by her podium to read her voting details. Her efforts to be genial and encouraging to passers-by seemed to only drive them away further, with hasty excuses of having already voted for a Skeith.
Therefore it came as little surprise to her when it was announced that she had come in tenth place. Rushing off the stage in embarrassment and anger, Nisla barely heard the name of her category winner.
“That oaf of a Red Skeith won,” she later complained her fellow noblemen and women. “It’s almost as though appearances didn’t matter.“ Her companions had been excitedly waiting at the entrance to hear the results, but now accompanied her home despite the disappointment.
“I completely agree,” gushed a Royal Acara to her right.
“A ridiculous decision,” exclaimed a Kyrii who was full of his own importance. “They must be taking pity on the less well-off competitors.”
Despite their words, Nisla was not encouraged by her friends, for she saw the pity in their eyes.
When her friends had departed, Nisla found herself wandering about her palace grounds, hoping for something to distract her distraught mind. Pacing back and forth, she almost cannoned into a Bruce who was labouring in her fields. He apologised hurriedly and gave a quick nod of his head. But Nisla was in a talkative mood.
“I entered the Beauty Contest today,” she said suddenly.
The farmer did not reply, but continued to clip the hedges. Nisla frowned at him, growing impatient at his silence.
“Why do you think I lost?” she queried brazenly.
The Bruce cleared his throat, as though preparing to say something he didn’t really want to. “Well, ma’am, forgive me, but since you requested my opinion... perhaps you aren’t terribly good at Beauty Contests?” He stared at the ground, flushing furiously.
Nisla took a step back, shocked. This was the first time in a long while, she felt, that someone had been honest with her - not just saying what she wanted to hear.
“What makes you say that?” she snapped.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t know what I’m talking about,” mumbled the farmer apologetically. “If you don’t mind, I have to count these Babaas. They’re easiest to count when they’re feeding.”
“There are 1402 Babaas in that field,” murmured Nisla in a bored voice. “I counted them while we were talking,” she explained.
The Bruce stared at her, his eyes bulging. “In the name of Fyora, Miss,” he breathed. “I never saw anyone count that fast. You should enter that - what’s it called - Lenny Conundrum competition.”
The Skeith smiled at the genuine compliment, and bade the farmer farewell. That night, her dreams conjured up images of Lennies and puzzles - but no trophies.
The next morning Nisla arrived at the Conundrum centre, pen and paper in hand. Ignoring the surprised glances from people wondering what she was doing there, she took her seat, like everyone else, at a small desk.
The famous Lenny approached the top of the room and cleared his throat for silence. He then proceeded to write a lengthy, complicated mathematical problem on the blackboard.
“The same rules as always apply,” he drawled. “The first two hundred and fifty people to hand me the correct answer on paper will win a share of the jackpot and this trophy.” He waved a golden statue of himself before the group, causing many to gasp hopefully.
“However, this puzzle is unusually complex, and I doubt that many of you will solve it anytime soon. Therefore, I am going to the Coffee Shop for my break, where you may consult me if you solve the equation.” He smirked, indicating how improbable this would be.
Nisla stared at the blackboard, her brow furrowing in concentration. For a moment, they were just incomprehensible symbols, scrawled in chalk. Soon however, her forehead was smooth once more as the solution became as clear as day to her. Her eyes darting nervously around her to make sure no one else copied her answer, her pen flew across the sheet of paper, solving the riddle at the fastest pace imaginable. A few minutes later, she had finished writing. Her wrist ached, but she ignored it. Holding out the paper before her, she re-read her answer thrice to verify that it was correct. Then, panting slightly in excitement, she left the centre, unaware of the bewildered and annoyed eyes following her.
Sprinting across Neopia Central, the Skeith soon reached the Art Centre. Still running as though her life depended on it, Nisla entered the warm, cosy coffee shop. It did not take long to locate the Lenny, for he was still wearing his trademark purple hat and gown. When she reached his table, he dropped his mug of coffee in his haste to read her answer.
Scanning the sheet of paper through beady eyes over his spectacles, the Lenny’s eyebrows rose higher along his forehead until they disappeared under his hat. Finally he placed the sheet on the table, staring at it for a few seconds.
“Well done,” he said, emitting a low whistle in bewilderment. “That is correct.” Still frowning to himself, he left the Coffee Shop with Nisla, once more under the watchful gaze of many eyes.
The Bruce farmer was cheerfully raking a pile of leaves when he noticed Nisla watching him.
“I got my share of the jackpot,” she said quietly. “I want you to have the neopoints - as a thank you. It’s not much, but it’s a token of my appreciation. Finally, I have a trophy - but I think the neopoints should go to someone more deserving. Thank you for being honest with me.” She handed him a bulging bag of coins, her normally pale cheeks flaming red. Then, as abruptly as she had arrived, she spun around on her heels and ran through the dense forestry, away from the Bruce.
The farmer’s eyes widened as he felt how heavy the bag of coins was.
“Not much? Goodness me. Well,” he said thoughtfully to a nearby Babaa, “it just goes to show - you should never judge a book by its cover.”