It was a beautiful spring day in Brightvale. The sun shone brightly against the wide expanse of blue sky, which seemed to stretch endlessly in every direction, and the Crokabeks sang in the trees all over the land. Everyone was joyful, delighting in the sunshine and warmth that had finally arrived after a long winter. Or almost everyone.
A glowing Lupe pushed open the doors of the Brightvale Castle, stepping out into the sunshine. She didn’t stop to bask in the warmth, instead walking briskly away from the castle with her head down, tears threatening to spill over, avoiding the eyes of happy passersby. Behind her, a Meturf scrambled to keep up with her owner.
Star didn’t slow her pace or look up until she was entering her home on Mystery Island. Her owner looked up as she came in, nearly slamming the door behind her.
“Hi, Star! What have you been up to today?” Queenie asked her pet, setting aside her book. Star flopped onto the couch next to her owner.
“What do you think?” she asked grumpily.
Queenie sighed. “King Hagan still wants you to study more?”
Star crossed her arms, fighting the tears that threatened to fall. “Yeah.”
Star had been making the trek to Brightvale every day, sometimes waiting in line all day for her chance to impress the great king with her words of wisdom. The problem was that despite the hours Star spent studying in the evenings, King Hagan was never impressed by her intelligence. Every day for many months now, she had left Brightvale Castle with his words ringing in her ears: “I’m not dense, young’un. I already knew that!” She dreamed of one day walking away with one of the prizes the king gave to those who offered the wisest words – a book to study from, some Neopoints, or one of many other items. But she had tried so many times, and now, she was starting to get discouraged.
Missy, Star’s Meturf, crawled into her lap and chirped. Star automatically stroked her petpet with a glowing paw as she thought back to her first visit to King Hagan about a year ago.
The day that Queenie took her three pets to Brightvale for the first time was also sunny and warm. The citizens of Brightvale were warm and welcoming, and the four of them very much enjoyed looking at the merchandise in the many shops, exploring the land, and tasting delicacies native to the region. It was late in the afternoon and nearly time to head home when Star spotted the huge, brilliant castle that sat near the back of the land. Queenie said they would come back another day to visit the castle, but Star, Aamilah and Azure begged and pleaded until she finally gave in.
As they walked through the gilded doors of the castle, Star was awestruck by the dazzling stained glass windows, throwing vividly colored patterns on the tiled floors in the afternoon light. The king had few visitors that day, so the four were ushered into the great room where he sat importantly on a golden throne, looking at the pets expectantly. Star felt uncharacteristically shy, so Aamilah, a green Kougra, was the first to step forward.
“A wise friend once told me that an enemy is like the wrath of a flock of rampaging Rukis!” she exclaimed confidently. King Hagan laughed a hearty laugh.
“Ahh, brilliant! It’s good to know there are intelligent Neopians out there,” he said. “I give you an A+!” Aamilah beamed brightly as she accepted her prize, and Azure, encouraged by his sister’s success, came forward timidly.
“I believe that bravery is comparable to the allure of a herd of happy-go-lucky Yurbles,” the blue Bori said in a trembling voice. The king studied Azure silently, looking at him intently. Suddenly his face broke into a grin.
“Well, you’re not the sharpest tack in the drawer, but that wasn’t too bad. I give you a B!” he said, handing Azure a book to study with.
Now it was Star’s turn. She stared up at the all-knowing king in admiration as she considered her words carefully. How could one Neopet have so much wisdom and greatness? What could she possibly say to impress this well-educated king? She took a deep breath and said, “Pity those who underestimate hatred is equivalent to the intelligence of a Darigan Baby Fireball!” When she had finished, Star held her breath, hoping desperately that King Hagan would appreciate her effort. He looked at her for a long moment before he spoke.
“I’m not dense, young’un. I already knew that!”
Star was devastated. As she traveled home to Mystery Island with her siblings and Queenie, she fought back tears and tried to ignore the excited chattering of Aamilah and Azure as they relived their moments of success. By the time they had returned home, Star had made a vow: she would try every day until she said something intelligent.
“You know, Star, it’s awfully hard to impress King Hagan,” Queenie said, tearing Star away from her memories. “He’s such a wise and intelligent king; it’s hard to tell him something he doesn’t already know.”
Star did not find this helpful. “Yeah, whatever,” was all she said as she went to her room, her Meturf following close on her heels. She closed the door and stood in front of her bookshelf. She knew she needed to study more if she wanted to have any chance of impressing the king the next day, but for the first time since she had made her vow, she didn’t have the motivation to open a book. Instead she sat on her bed, petting Missy and thinking about how hard she had worked in the last year in her efforts to show King Hagan her wisdom.
Queenie had been surprised by Star’s dogged determination to succeed in this matter – her pet was known for being a free spirit, and even better known for her wildly destructive behavior. She had received many urgent Neomails from various faeries, shopkeepers, and pets requesting that she retrieve her Lupe. Star had never shown any interest in academics, and had never been so motivated to follow through with a plan. Queenie wanted to encourage Star’s sudden interest in knowledge, which had led to many evenings spent reading with her beloved pet in the living room, helping her study. Star hadn’t stopped at studying at home with her owner, though. She had spent many hours browsing the bookstores in Neopia Central and on Kreludor, eavesdropping on nearby strangers who looked intelligent, hoping to glean some small piece of information. She had even visited the Healing Springs in the hope that the water faerie could increase her intelligence.
Star started at the gentle knock at her door. “Go away,” she said. She didn’t want to talk to anyone right now. But Aamilah ignored her and came in anyways, sitting beside her sister on the bed.
“Queenie says you’re upset about King Hagan. He still hasn’t been impressed by your wisdom?” Aamilah said.
“No.” Star looked at the ground. “I’m just not smart enough,” she admitted to herself. Aamilah put her arm around Star.
“Star, I don’t think the problem is that you aren’t smart enough – I think the problem is that your intelligence isn’t the kind that King Hagan rewards. You’re very smart, but you’re also so creative and witty. Your intelligence is the kind that King Skarl rewards,” Aamilah said. “Why don’t you use what you’ve learned from your studies to think of a good joke to tell him?”
Star sighed. “Because even if he did like my joke, I still wouldn’t be fulfilling my vow. I said I’d try every day until I impressed King Hagan. I’d be letting myself down. Again.” This time, she couldn’t stop the tears from falling.
Aamilah smiled. “Your vow wasn’t to impress King Hagan, Star. Your vow was to say something intelligent. You won’t be letting yourself down – you’ll just fulfill your goal in King Skarl’s throne room rather than King Hagan’s.”
King Skarl had been sitting on his throne for hours listening to pet after pet tell him jokes that just weren’t funny. “Not one of the pets I’ve seen today has even made me chuckle,” he complained to one of the guards at his side. “It seems like there isn’t a single funny pet left in Neopia!”
By the late afternoon, Skarl was almost ready to give up and leave early. He hadn’t laughed once that day and was feeling grumpier than ever. He had just ordered the guards to close the doors of his throne room when another guard called out, “Your Highness, there is one more pet who would like to be granted an audience!” A glowing Lupe appeared in the doorway, a little Meturf clinging to her. Skarl glowered down at the pair for a moment. Then he sighed.
“Fine. Tell me your joke.”
The Lupe stood still for a moment, carefully considering her joke. Finally, she looked up.
“How can you call upon a pack of acrobatic Moehogs upset by a gift of Sneezles?” she asked.
Skarl opened his mouth, prepared to give the correct answer as he had been able to all day, but he stopped suddenly when he realized – he didn’t know the punchline to this joke!
“Uh... I don’t know, how?” he asked, recovering quickly. The Lupe smiled.
“By offering a trumpet of misaligned ballet paint brush Quadrupi!” she exclaimed triumphantly. There was a beat of silence.
Then Skarl burst out laughing. “That was... the best... joke I’ve ever heard!” he managed to get out through his hysterical laughter. He laughed so hard his eyes watered. He laughed so hard his sides felt as though they were going to split. He laughed so hard, he forgot to give the witty glowing Lupe her prize.
But the Lupe just smiled to herself and quietly left the room as Skarl laughed. She didn’t need the prize.
Thanks to membot and nekoprincess817 for helping when I couldn't impress Hagan enough to see what he says when impressed.