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Adventures in Akadia

Chapter 8

The Journey Begins

Aurelia and Barky.jpeg

Chapter 8: 

The Journey Begins

     The children woke to the sound of birds chirping softly. The glittering stars they had fallen asleep to the night before had been replaced with gentle morning rays that cast a warm glow across the forest. The fresh morning air filled their lungs and helped each of them to wake up quicker than they normally did at home.

     Sitting up in their spots around the campfire, they noticed the same black pot from the day before was now sitting above the fire with steam rolling from the top. The contents of the pot was letting off a sweet aroma that signaled each of their bellies to let off a grumble. Their eyes were drawn to the house as they heard the back door open. Aurelia emerged from her home carrying a ladle and bowls, ready to serve breakfast.

     As they stood and approached the table where Aureila was now setting down the bowls, they noticed handmade backpacks resting on each of their seats. Crafted from dark leather with golden buckles, the backpacks looked sturdy and ready for adventure. 

    “Good morning, friends! How did you sleep?”

    “Like a rock,” Jamari groaned happily as he stretched his arms.

    The other children let out stretches of their own and nodded in agreement.

    “Very good!” Aurelia said. “Today is a big day. Let’s get some food in your bellies.” 

     As the kids began to position themselves in their seats, they were somewhat startled by the sound of a deep and rumbling yawn that echoed through the forest. Their eyes darted back in the direction of the campfire where Barky was just beginning to wake. He stretched and let out another yawn, this one sounding more like a roar. The children laughed, hopped from their chairs, and ran over to Barky to give him some good morning scratches. 

     After happily receiving a good morning from each of the children, Barky approached Aurelia from behind as she was setting up some final items for breakfast. He nuzzled his nose into her back, bumping her slightly forward.

     Regaining her balance, she turned and used both hands to grab his face and started scratching, “And good morning to you, Barky!” Aureila said with a laugh.

     Sitting back down at the table, the children noticed their bowls had been filled with a sweet smelling food that resembled oatmeal.

     Jamari took in a breath, about to let off his usual complaining about such a meal. He stopped himself however, perhaps remembering that he was currently in a magical land and that Aurelia wasn’t his mother.

     “Eat up!” Aurelia said as she scooped some food into the final bowl.

     The children moved the spoons slowly to their lips, worried about how it would taste. The shock was evident on their faces as the children discovered that this new food was one of best things they had ever tasted.

    “What is this?” Jamari asked. “It’s really good!”

    Aurelia seemed especially pleased with Jamari’s approval and replied, “Thank you! This is called slurpylurp. It’s a recipe I learned from the Quotidians.” 

    The kids laughed, each of them repeating the word slurpylurp. Inspired by the name, they each began to slurp their food. The giggling and slurping continued until their bellies were full. 

    After clearing the table, Aurelia said, “We better not lose any more daylight. Let’s get on our way.” She walked around the table, picking up each of the backpacks.

    “Here you go,” Aurelia said as she handed each of them one of the packs. They each swung a bag onto their back and looked up nervously at Aurelia.

     Looking over the group and giving an approving nod, Aurelia said, “Yep. I think you’re ready. Let’s get going.”

     Aurelia put out the campfire, grabbed a walking stick, and whistled for Barky to follow. The group entered the forest using the same path Aurelia had exited from the day before. The path was wide enough for them to walk somewhat as a cluster rather than a single-file line. Aurelia led the way with Elizabeth and Gabriela at her right. Jamari walked a half step behind to her left. Lukas was a few steps behind the group, holding the map of Akadia and focusing intently on it.

     Aurelia called back, “What are you learning from the map, Lukas?”

     Lukas was somewhat startled and caught off-guard by the question. He had been so focused on the map he had zoned everyone else out.

     Picking up his pace to catch up with the group he finally responded, “Um, there are a lot of places in Akadia.” 

     “There sure are. Do you have any questions about what’s on the map?” Aurelia asked.

     Lukas always preferred to answer his own questions, but he had to admit he was curious what Aurelia could tell him about Akadia. His eyes finally left the map and looked up toward Aurelia, “How many of these places have you been to?”

     Aurelia slowed to a stop, turned toward Lukas and held out her hand, “That’s a good question, may I see the map?” Lukas handed Aurelia the map and she began to study it. After a moment, she nodded and said “I think I’ve been everywhere.” She handed the map back to Lukas and gave him a smile. The group began to walk again and Lukas’ focus went back to the map. Knowing she had been everywhere, Lukas now had a whole set of questions. 

    "So you’ve been to this castle at the bottom of the map?” Lukas asked.

    "The Brulk Kingdom?” Aurelia asked.

    "Right,” Lukas confirmed. “What’s down there?”

    "Yes. I've been there. That is where the Brulks live,” Aurelia responded with a hint of sadness to her voice. 

    "Are they nice?” Lukas asked.

    “Sometimes,” Aureila answered with a slight frown. “Other times they choose to be really mean, especially to the Quotidians”.

     Lukas nervously asked,  "Do you think they will be nice to us?”

     “You won’t have to worry about seeing them on your journey to the challenges. They usually don’t like coming to this side of Akadia.” 

     At the mention of the challenges, Jamari jumped into the conversation. He had been thinking about the challenges all morning. 

     “So do you think my challenge will be something like basketball or football?”

     Aurelia let out a laugh. “It’s highly unlikely, Jamari.” 

     Jamari thought for a moment. “Fine. But you promise you aren’t going to make me sit at a desk and take a test, right?”

     She laughed again. “That is also highly unlikely.”

     Elizabeth had also been thinking about the challenges and this conversation made her begin to worry. What if she failed? What if she did so badly that Aurelia wouldn’t let her go back home? With a growing pit in her stomach, she asked, "What happens if we don’t pass?”

     Aurelia thought for a moment before responding, “You’ll be ready, Lizzy.”

     Unsatisfied with the response, Elizabeth followed up, “But how can I get ready if I don’t know what the test is?”

     Aurelia stopped abruptly, putting the children somewhat off balance. She knelt down, now eye-to-eye with Elizabeth, and placed a hand on her shoulder. 

     “Elizabeth,” she asked in a gentle voice, “do you remember when I told you that Akadia is different from school?”

     She nodded.

     Aurelia continued, “Your test here won’t be like any test you would take at home. There won’t be a grade or a report card to take home.”

     “But what if I don’t do it right?” Elizabeth asked somewhat desperately, hoping no one else could see the tears threatening to escape from her eyes.

     Rather than matching the desperation in Elizabeth's voice, Aurelia paused for a moment and then asked in a near whisper, “Elizabeth, do you trust me?”  

     Elizabeth’s racing thoughts and worries were interrupted by this question and the calm in Aurelia's voice. Her tense stance relaxed somewhat as she thought about it. Elizabeth knew she had been having fun with Aurelia, but did she trust her? As she thought more about it, Elizabeth realized that she felt safe when she was around Aurelia. For now, that was enough for Elizabeth to trust her.

     “I think so,” Elizabeth responded.

     Aurelia gave a slight nod and spoke in a loving, but serious, tone, “Elizabeth, right now you think mistake and failure are the same word. Akadia is going to help you learn the difference between them. The challenges aren’t a test to see if you can do something perfectly. The challenges are an opportunity to show what you’ve learned in Akadia. I don’t expect all of that to make sense right now, but I hope you’ll trust me when I tell you that you don’t need to be afraid of your challenge.” 

     Still knelt down, Aurelia’s eyes now turned to the other children. She continued in the same tone, clearly speaking to the entire group, “Your journey to Akadia wasn’t an accident. You are here for a reason. Each of you has something to learn - A lesson that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.”

     Aurelia turned her eyes back to Elizabeth and gave her a smile. Elizabeth was still worried about the challenge, but she now felt like Aurelia was on her team. As Aurelia stood, each of the children watched her intently, eager to see if she would say anything else about the challenges. Instead, she gave a simple nod, and turned around to continue walking.

     The children made eye contact with one another, each wishing Aurelia had told them a little more. After the brief exchange of glances, the children jogged to catch up with Aurelia. Elizabeth lagged somewhat behind, trying to better understand what she was feeling. 

     The group walked in silence for a few minutes. During that time, Barky made enough noise for all of them as he chased and barked at glittering butterflies that were clearly unique to Akadia. With each jump, the children felt the earth shake when Barky would land back on the ground. At first, Lukas was worried that Barky might be trying to hurt the butterflies. But as he watched more closely, he could see that Barky was just struggling to know how to play with something that was so much smaller than him.

     Gabriela finally broke the silence. “Aurelia, can I ask a question?”

     “Of course,” she replied.

     “Are we all supposed to learn the same thing while we’re here?”

     Aurelia responded, “There are a couple things you’ll learn together, but the main reason you’re here is to learn something that is unique to you.”

     “Can you tell me what I’m supposed to be learning?”

     Aurelia considered the question and then responded, “I suppose I could..." she paused for a moment and then continued,"...but I’m not sure you’d be ready to hear it if I told you what it was.”

     Gabriela gave off a puzzled expression. Noticing this, Aurelia explained, “For some children that visit Akadia, the most difficult part about the challenge is accepting the lesson that needs to be learned. For some, that is more difficult than the challenge itself.”

     Like Elizabeth, Gabriela was now trying to understand what Aurelia had told her. It didn’t make sense. How could knowing what the challenge is be harder than the challenge? 

     A short distance ahead, the kids could see a fork in the trail. Aurelia slowed down and stopped just before the path split.

     “Which way are we supposed to go?” Jamari asked

     “You all will be taking this path,” Aurelia responded, pointing to the path going left. “The next part of your journey will be without me.” She motioned to the map in Lukas’ hands, “The map will show you where to go. Remember to take care of each other and be open to what Akadia has to teach you.”

     Each of the children looked longingly at Aurelia. They had known this moment was coming but didn’t expect it so soon.

     “When will we see you again?” Elizabeth asked, fighting back tears.

     Aurelia reached out for the map and Lukas handed it to her. She opened it and held it out for everyone to see.

     “We are right here where the paths are splitting. You must follow the path through the mountains until it brings you out on the other side. Once you get there, you will find these small homes that belong to a family of Quotidians. If you follow the river they live on, it will take you to the Golden Shore. I will meet you there.”

     The children examined the map and tried to gauge how long it would be until they saw her again. As they continued looking at the map, Aurelia added, “Oh, and one more thing-” She paused and waited until each of them had looked up from the map and was making eye contact with her, “-Be sure to trust the Quotidians. They have a special way of helping children prepare for the challenges.”

     As the reality of parting ways with Aurelia sank in, each of the children had their own reason for hoping she would stay. Elizabeth felt the worries and concerns about the challenge come rushing back. Without Aurelia there, Gabriela felt like she would now need to be the one to watch over the group and keep them together. Lukas had started to enjoy what Aurelia was teaching him about Akadia and wondered what it would be like with her gone. One part of Jamari was excited about the idea of an adventure without an adult. But as he thought about it, he realized that Aurelia wasn’t a normal adult and he found himself wishing she would continue the journey with them. 

     As much as each of them wanted to ask Aurelia to stay, they felt too embarrassed to ask it in front of the others. 

     Aurelia gave a final encouragement, “There are good things to come. I’ll see you at the Golden Shore. Good luck.”

     Nervously, the children started down the path. Barky followed for a few yards, then went back to Aurelia and sat down beside her. Every few steps, one of the children would look back to see if Aurelia and Barky were still there, but with how dense the forest was, it wasn’t long before they were out of view. 

     The children were now on their own.

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