To Order: The Pilgrimage
Rachel Ariel Todd has rebuilt a life once shattered by divorce and deception and been transformed by renewed purpose and the promise of a different kind of love.
Ride the roller coaster of changes that now challenge her life, and experience the fear and excitement of political intrigue and assassination plots. Follow Rachel as she searches the unexplored depths of her inner strength finding that the foundation of her familial connection to God remains unshakable.
Rachel hears her destiny calling. Pursuing the desires of her heart she presses on in her pilgrimage to realize the prayers of her mother: that she would become a woman with the meekness of a lamb and the courage of a lion.
Chapter One-Beside the Still Waters
It was a warm September afternoon and the ocean was quietly churning, its mighty waves rolled back and forth while the frothy bubbles they generated blended into the glistening brown sand.
The briny salt air penetrated my clothes and filled my nostrils as I exercised Stardust in one of the paddocks below the horse stable, which was located on the lower portion of my grandparent's estate situated high above the Pacific Ocean. This was a daily chore I enjoyed immensely.
Stardust was a beautiful American saddle horse, a gift from Papa and Grandmother for my fifteenth birthday. He was a ruddy chestnut color, about fourteen hands high and weighing almost twelve hundred pounds. On his forehead was a dusty white marking, in the shape of a small star, the basis for his name.
"Rachel," Papa called my name from the stable yard above me and I turned and looked in his direction. Already mounted on Ebony, his favorite riding companion, Grandfather motioned for me to join him for our daily ride in the hills surrounding the estate.
I quickly maneuvered Stardust out the wide gate and we easily scurried up the low incline to the stable yard where Grandfather was waiting.
Nutmeg, the golden retriever I had raised from a puppy was already by my side eager to be off on another scavenger hunt. We rode slowly together toward one of the back roads on the property, which led us through an orchard, up the hill, past the estate and into the mountains behind. Papa and I casually talked about the events of the day as we rode through the trees until we could reach open ground where we would be able to ride unhindered.
"How vas school today, Rachel?" Papa asked in the English that still carried a trace of an accent, his European ancestry evident when he spoke. Coming from a French-German area of Europe many decades earlier Papa and Grandmother both were able to speak five different languages. I was able to understand a great deal of what they said although I never completely mastered a second language myself.
"It was fine, Papa," I answered quietly. "My speech in history class went well even though I was very nervous. I’m not sure I will ever get used to public speaking. My palms sweat and my mouth gets dry and my heart pumps so fast I feel like it's going to burst." I laughed and Papa joined in. He understood me so well; it was hard to believe we were generations apart.
As we rode toward higher ground we were able to see the lovely rose gardens that were planted in a terraced area behind the back patio of the Gothic styled estate. Grandmother was visible as well as she left the rear of the house and headed in the direction of the chapel where she went daily to pray. The chapel was built on a small incline above the rose garden. When she looked our way she waved and I blew her a kiss as we galloped up the road and went off into the hills.
The September weather was still warm but each day the nights grew shorter and it became more obvious that winter was approaching. I wore dark brown corduroy pants and a cream-colored turtleneck sweater with a flannel shirt knowing that as soon as the sun descended the air would become chilled. Papa wore blue jeans and a chambray shirt with a vest. He rarely got cold and loved being outdoors. His face was weathered and tan but always cheery and bright.
We rode for a while until we reached a stream that ran down through the hills. It was so peaceful and calm here, the quiet trickle of the running waters was something of a safe haven. I loved this particular spot and we often stopped here to rest the horses and walk a little absorbing the strength that came from the serenity of these tranquil surroundings. Papa dismounted with ease. He was a giant of a man and the hero of my young life. At six feet six inches tall and weighing nearly two hundred and fifty pounds, he towered over my five feet three inches. Nutmeg ran through the trees chasing whatever small critters he came upon. The brownish, bushy tailed California ground squirrel, which was prominent throughout most of the state, was a favorite although he often encountered pocket gophers or mice and the occasional brush rabbit. It always reminded me of a trip Papa and I had taken to visit some of his friends who owned a dairy farm just off the coast near Bodega Bay. As we drove down the small two-lane road we saw a black and white dairy cow chasing down a Black-tailed Jack Rabbit. She was running and bucking at that tiny Jack Rabbit who took off at speeds of probably thirty miles an hour every once in a while leaping high into the air looking back at the cow chasing it. I laughed each time I thought of it.
"I love it, Papa," I said, "the trees, the streams of water and the beautiful ocean below--everything so fresh and clean. I don't think I could ever live anywhere else!" Papa only smiled.
"We have many blessings, yes." Papa agreed. "And one day, it will all belong to you, Rachel."
I remained quiet. I hated thinking about death. Living with my maternal grandparents hadn't been easy for me initially. The grief and pain I felt at the loss of my family was overwhelming at times. Thankfully, my grandparents had been patient and loving. They helped me through the long and difficult process of mourning, always responding appropriately to whatever I was going through. Never trying to force me to accept what I was as yet unable to accept. Weeping with me when I wept and in time when my ability to laugh and rejoice returned they rejoiced with me as well. Now, I couldn't bear the thought of losing either of them.
Nutmeg's barking in the distant brush caught our attention and after remounting our horses we rode in his direction.
"Nutmeg," Grandfather called, "come here." Within a few minutes Nutmeg bounded out of the trees and rejoined us trailing along at my grandfather's side. We rode pleasantly together up one hill and down another until it came time to head for home. Stardust and I were in the lead.
Nutmeg ran ahead to chase another squirrel and I followed behind him at a slow trot. It was dusky now and somewhat difficult to see. I rode around a clump of trees to see Nutmeg had stopped a short distance ahead of me to bark at some object hidden under a shelter of rocks.
"Leave him alone, Nutmeg!" I said as we drew nearer. Suddenly, Stardust reared up. I held on tightly to the reigns trying to keep my balance.
"Steady, Stardust!" I yelled as I tried to regain control of my mount but fearfully he reared up again. Nutmeg continued with his unrelenting barking. Stardust was panicked. I never heard the noise of the rattler because of Nutmeg's barking but I saw him distinctly in the rocks. The brownish blotches down the spine were the distinct markings of a Western Rattlesnake, fierce and venomous. Papa was somewhere close behind me. He came near and tried to grab hold of Stardust's reigns to steady him but Stardust only reared up again.
"Back-up, Rachel," he yelled forcefully, but it was too late. Stardust reared up once more and this time, I wasn't able to hold on. I fell to the ground with a thud, landing on my side and hitting my head against a large stone. Stardust was in a flurry. Hovering over me, I felt his legs entangle with mine and heard something snap. I was stunned momentarily as stars appeared before my eyes. Within minutes my body was flooded with excruciating pain particularly throughout my right leg. In fear and anguish I screamed out loudly for my grandfather—where was he?
Semiconscious, lying on the cold, damp ground, I began to shiver and cry. At the thundering sound of Papa's shotgun, fear took over.
"Papa!" I screamed. "Papa…Papa…where are you?" It was almost dark and my vision was further limited by my inability to move without suffering more pain. Everything began to move in and out of shadows, Nutmeg was silent--Stardust was gone.
"Papa!" I screamed again, in a voice full of terror as hot salty tears poured down my face.
"Rachel, I'm here sweetheart. Right here." Papa said, running to my side. He lifted my head and held me in his arms as I sobbed uncontrollably.
"There, there," he said in his soothingly calm voice. Don't cry, your Papa is here now." Papa tried to lift me in his arms but stopped when I screamed out in pain. He touched my leg and felt a warm sticky substance. Blood.
"Rachel, your leg is broken. Stardust must have stepped on you--the bone is protruding through the skin. I’ll ride to the house and get help."
"No, Papa!" I screamed hysterically. "Don't leave me alone!" I shouted. "Please, Papa, please don't leave me alone!"
"Rachel, I must go to get some men and the jeep." Papa stood up and quickly mounted Ebony. "Nutmeg," he yelled, "stay here!" Nutmeg silently obeyed. "You will be safe, Rachel, I promise you will be safe. Trust me!"
Papa turned and frantically rode away down the hill in the direction of the estate.
"Papa," I yelled as he disappeared down the hill, "Papa, come back!" I pleaded once more but he was already gone. Sobbing uncontrollably I shouted toward the heavens, "Don't leave me all alone, Papa!"
Nutmeg lay down next to me and I clung desperately to his warm furry body. My leg was throbbing and I was quickly growing colder and colder. My head rested on the damp soil—the scent of brush filled my nostrils. Alarm crept into my soul as I pondered the reality of my situation; the estate was a good ten-minute ride down the hill and it would take Papa another ten minutes to get back with help. Twenty minutes. There was nothing I could do but pray.
Suddenly, Nutmeg’s ears perked up and he began a low growl. Someone, or something was near. I listened for the roar of the jeep but heard instead a series of yelps and barks followed by a long, low howl. Coyotes! I listened intently for the return, which came within minutes. Nutmeg sat up on his hunches and again began to growl and I silenced him, holding tightly to his collar so he could not get away. I listened as the howling and yelping continued and grew closer and closer until suddenly, it stopped. The night was dark but there was a full moon and I could see my surroundings clearly, except that I could not move well. Papa’s shotgun was by my side. Thankfully, he had the foresight to leave it. How long had he been gone? Time had slipped away quickly.
Suddenly, Nutmeg lurched forward and dragged me along with him. I yelled out in pain as the movement renewed the throbbing pain in my leg.
“Stop, Nutmeg!” I yelled. Then I saw him, in the distance but not far away, less than fifty yards in the wooded area just in front of me. He was light colored and long and slender with the typical pointed snout and bushy tail. He stood silently, watching. I feared he wasn’t alone. I knew coyotes were around but they had never bothered us. They fed on rodents mostly mice and gophers and even snakes, frogs or fruit. But we often heard them at night, prowling the hills and valleys surrounding our home.
I continued to hold onto Nutmeg and carefully raised the shotgun, which carried one load of ammo as Papa has fired the other. I would never kill any animal…except if necessary. I prayed it would not become necessary.
The vibrations on the road of the jeep furiously racing up the hill could be felt on the ground where I lay before either the sound of the engines reached my hearing or the sight of its headlights appeared within my eyesight. The coyote turned and scampered away into the night; relieved I lowered the gun beside me.
Papa was out of the side of the jeep before Mr. Francis had stopped. Jody and his brothers came behind on horseback with flashlights and rode off into the dark in search of Stardust.
Papa had reached my side where I now lay silent…thankful…to the God who watches over us all. Mr. Francis came up behind him carrying a long piece of wood for me to lie on. Papa gently lifted my body onto the wide board while Mr. Francis supported my leg. As quickly as possible, they loaded me into the back of the jeep and headed down the hill toward the main highway where they drove like the wind to get me to the hospital.
The doctors were busily setting my leg when Mary Francis arrived bringing Grandmother and Isabelle, all nervous and frightened. With tears in their eyes, they kissed my sobbing face and comforted me. I survived.
In my room later that night, Papa sat by my bed holding my hand, stroking my cheek.
"Papa," I said, "I'm afraid…I'm afraid to be alone, Papa!"
"I know, Rachel. But you are not alone. I am here and Grandmother and Isabelle are here. People who love you surround you. And you know you are never really alone, Rachel because God is always here." Papa smiled.
I closed my eyes to sleep while Papa quietly prayed for me. Patiently he reassured me of the goodness of God. He was my hero, my source of inspiration, someone I wanted to emulate. Would my faith ever be as strong and powerful as his was?
"Lord, help me!" I prayed silently as I nodded off to sleep.
Years would pass, but I would never forget that fateful September day. It became a turning point in my life. My walk of true faith was only just beginning then. Today, the book of my life's history was packed with warm and wonderful memories. It's pages covered almost fifty years.
Papa's trustworthy God had become my God and I too had learned to trust Him. His word had become the roadmap for my earthly journey. Wherever He led, I followed. And I still enjoyed our travels together beside the still waters!