Ariella Bannon is being hunted. Someone is determined to betray her as a Jew, but she has survived against incredible odds, and the end is in sight. She will be reunited with her precious children, no matter what it takes.
Meanwhile, Liesl and Erich have found a home in Ireland away from the chaos of war-ravaged Europe. As the dark news of what has happened to the Jews filters through, they are torn - love for their mother and their home on one hand, and the profound sense of peace and belonging they have in Ballycreggan on the other. Like all of the other children who escaped Nazi territory on the Kindertransport, they must wait to hear the fate of their loved ones.
For their foster parents, Elizabeth and Daniel, their dearest wish, that Ariella would survive the war, is also their deepest fear. Would her return mean the loss of the children they have come to think of as their own?
As the Third Reich crumbles under relentless Allied bombs, Ariella is careful, but Berlin is a very dangerous place to be, and somebody knows she survived. Can she take one last enormous risk to be reunited with Liesl and Erich or will her betrayer see her finally captured?
The Emerald Horizon is the long awaited sequel to the best-seller, The Star and the Shamrock.
Release date: January 3, 2020
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 236
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The Emerald Horizon
Berlin, April, 1944
Ariella Bannon strained to hear what was happening, her mouth suddenly dry. Men’s voices came up through the ceiling, muffled, but definitely there. How could there be men downstairs in the middle of the day?
Herr Braun never got home from work at the Berlin headquarters before six at the earliest, usually much later. Life at the official paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party was increasingly busy and he was much in demand, according to his wife. Ariella was used to hearing him come back, it was the signal to her not to move for the next twelve hours.
He was often loud and she was used to hearing him shouting at his wife from the moment he got in the door so at least she always knew when he was there. Once he was in the house she lay, barely breathing, never moving. Thankfully, and much to Ariella’s relief he was frequently called to the SA High Command in Munich, and it was as if the house could breathe when he was gone.
The Brauns never had visitors and Willi, the Braun’s only son was away at the front, proudly serving the Reich, so it couldn’t be him.
She tried to see out of the gap between the end of the slates and the wall of the house to check the time by judging the level of brightness. It seemed bright, but it was hard to know what time it was. She tried to keep track of days, marking each long sleep on the wall with a pencil that Frau Braun had provided when she’d asked her. She smiled, Erich and Liesl would always count how far away things were in sleeps. Fifteen sleeps until a birthday, five sleeps until Grandpa’s visit, at least before Peter’s father died and left a big hole in their family. She’d been up in this attic for over one thousand six hundred sleeps. It felt like forever. No conversation, no real communication, no news, no idea of what was happening in the world, nothing.
Her interaction with Frau Braun was minimal, they didn’t chat. Her saviour tapped the trapdoor when the coast was clear, Ariella lowered a bucket on a rope, into which the other woman placed a small amount of food, bread, a little cheese sometimes, soup if it was very cold. Ariella pulled it up and then lowered another bucket, the one she used as a toilet. Frau Braun took the bucket and emptied it. Most days no words were spoken. The water tank was the only other thing in the tiny attic, so she had access to water at least. She kept herself as clean as she could and drank enough to keep her alive.
The bed she’d made out of a few planks of wood laid across the joists that she’d found up there, left over from some carpentry job in the house, was made a bit more comfortable by blankets and a cushion Frau Braun had given her that day she rescued her off the street. Her whole world was that three feet by six feet pallet. She slept, she did her daily exercise regime, trying to stop her muscles from wasting, and she lay, hour after long hour, thinking.
Ariella lay there now, terrified that the sound of her heart pounding in her chest would be enough to alert whoever was downstairs to her presence. Calm, she berated herself. It could be anyone, a friend from the post office, a neighbour, anyone. It didn’t mean anything was wrong. She focused on stilling her racing mind and drumming heart.
But Frau Braun never invited anyone into the house a voice in her head argued. In all the time Ariella had been hiding in her attic, there had never been anyone but Hubert and Katerin Braun, and once or twice their son when he got leave, in that house.
The last time Willi came home Frau Braun had hissed at her to remain extra silent, he would be at home during the day. She’d been given rations for a few days that time, bread only, no soup, and she’d had to wait until he went downstairs to use the bucket. It had been full to the point of overflowing by the time Frau Braun managed to get back to her when he re-joined his regiment.
She could hear the only child of the Brauns moving about in his bedroom on his short leave periods, and once she overheard a conversation between him and his mother where he begged her to leave his father. Willi loved Frau Braun and she adored him. Ariella remembered him as a sweet boy, full of fun, and she knew he couldn’t bear the idea of Hubert being violent with his mother. She’d shushed him, telling him that she could handle Hubert, but Ariella knew different. She heard it all, the crying, the blows.
Once Willi was gone back to the front, normal service resumed but for weeks afterwards Frau Braun was in very low spirits. She had no idea why the monosyllabic Frau Braun was helping her, never once since the day the old German postwoman confronted her in the street, and more or less dragged her back to her house, and shoved her unceremoniously had she given the slighted indication of her motivation, but here Ariella was. A Jewess, surviving the war in a German attic, her children safe, having got out on one of the last .
Her letter was beside her pillow, torn on the creases from being read and re-read over and over. The only physical thing linking her and her children. Their lovely childlike handwriting telling her that they had moved to Ireland because Elizabeth’s house was bombed, and that they were happy. Frau Braun had explained at length how she had taken a huge risk intercepting it at the post office, but the Irish postmark and her name made her think it might be important so she took it. She went to great pains to explain that if anyone saw her do that, she would be in a lot of trouble, all the Jews were supposed to be gone, but she did it nonetheless.
The day she delivered it with her food was the happiest day of all her years spent in the attic.
The gratitude she felt towards Peter’s cousin Elizabeth transcended words. She was an angel, nothing less, and Ariella knew she would endure anything, survive everything, because one day she would see her precious children again.
She tried to focus on their faces in her minds eye, anything to detract from what was going on below.
The voices went on below. Did they sound angry? Friendly? It was impossible to tell. What were they saying? She strained to hear. They were on the ground floor, in the hallway she thought.
Oh no. heavy footsteps on the stairs. That creak on the step, she heard it each night as the Brauns went upstairs to bed. The attic ran the width of the house, over both theirs and Willi’s bedrooms and the bathroom. Someone was opening the bathroom door. Why would visitors go into the bathroom? One person might need to answer the call of nature she supposed, but the footsteps indicated more than one person.
She felt nauseated. Bile rose up from her stomach and she clamped her hand over her mouth. She couldn’t swallow, she exhaled raggedly, sure the sound was audible. The voices were clearer now.
‘Do you have any other beds, ones that could be placed in here? This room could accommodate more than one person.’ A man’s voice. What was he talking about?
‘I don’t,’ Frau Braun sounded calm. ‘My son is an only child, we never had cause to have another bed in here.’ She replied, her voice neutral.
‘And you just have the two bedrooms and the downstairs parlour?’ the man’s voice again.
‘Yes that’s right.’ Frau Braun replied. Why was he asking about the house? It was a typical Berlin house, in a terrace, a small yard to the front and two floors. It had two bedrooms, and outside toilet, a living room and a small kitchen and pantry at the back. The Braun’s house was much more modest than hers and Peter’s big bright apartment, just two streets away, but it was a solidly built house.
‘What about the attic?’ a different voice.
Ariella held her breath, not daring even to move her head in the direction of the trapdoor, just a meter from her head.
‘It is not a proper attic, the floor is just joists, my husband was going to floor it properly but he never got time, he is so busy with party business. Also its not even high enough to stand up in, you have to crawl around up there, all that’s up there is the water tank, so it wouldn’t be suitable.’ Ariella marvelled at how she was staying so calm.
‘Can I see?’ the voice asked.
This was it. The moment of her discovery. They would find her, there was no way they could not if they opened the trapdoor, even if they never came up. She couldn’t move, there was nowhere to hide anyway, but even if she tried the noise would give them away.
She lay there, trying to visualise Liesl’s face first, then Erich, then her darling husband Peter, long dead now for just trying to defend an old Jewish lady in the street. If it wasn’t for her children she would have longed to join him, she’d have given herself up, faced whatever the Nazis had in store for her, but she longed to see her babies again, to hold them in her arms, to smell their hair, to feel their fingers intertwine with hers. She had endured it all, the long hours, days, weeks, months, years, all just to see them again. And now it was over.
Fifteen year old Liesl Bannon gazed critically in the mirror.
‘you look lovely.’ Elizabeth reassured her, replacing her needles and thread in her sewing basket.
‘I look like a crow, a hard angular old crow, all dark and threatening looking.’ Liesl replied miserably.
Elizabeth fought the urge to laugh. Liesl was growing into a beautiful young woman but she was tall, and as of yet her bust was small and her hips had not taken on womanly curves. She was neither a child nor an adult. Elizabeth remembered that age and wouldn’t go back for all the tea in China.
Liesl’s lustrous dark hair was in the very fashionable victory roll, all the girls wore it like that these days and her brown eyes expressed her disappointment. Elizabeth knew Liesl had hoped the red dress that had been altered to fit her would work a miracle in the bust department but it hadn’t.
There was a gentle knock on the bedroom door, and when Elizabeth called ‘Come in’
Daniel stuck his head around it. She smiled at his reaction to Liesl.
‘Oh Liesl, you look beautiful, and how clever Elizabeth is to make this dress fit you so perfectly.’
Liesl seemed to cheer a little. She looked up to Daniel and trusted him completely. He never lied to them, ever, so if he said she looked beautiful perhaps it wasn’t all that bad.
‘Should we go?’ Elizabeth asked her husband.
‘Yes, Erich is getting anxious, and he doesn’t want to be late. He’s convinced himself he won’t remember his piece from the Torah, though we’ve gone over it about a hundred times.’ He smiled as Liesl passed him and went downstairs.
‘Nerves.’ Elizabeth whispered, kissing him on the cheek as she passed.
‘Well his Bar Mitzvah is a big thing, I just wish his parents could see him, they would be proud.’ He said, sadly.
‘Well, we’ll have to do.’ Elizabeth said quietly as she went downstairs.
Erich was dressed impeccably, in a dark suit and tie, and he was holding both his and Daniel’s Tefillin. Elizabeth had grown accustomed to the trappings of Judaism but at first she’d admitted the Tefillin had confused her, the black leather boxes attached to straps that had to be wrapped around the head and arms of the men. Daniel explained that the texts of Hebrew parchment scrolls were contained within the boxes and they were an important part of their faith. In lots of ways her gradual reintroduction to the faith was made easier because even though Daniel was Jewish by birth, he didn’t know he was a Jew until the Nazis arrived to his door. Rudi, her first husband was a Jew as well, but he kept it to himself, and she was a young girl, busy with her career as a teacher so she didn’t recall his faith impacting their lives at all.
With Daniel it was different, he was learning. His parents had lived as secular Catholics and he and his brother were raised as such, so his true identity came as a total shock.
She watched as Daniel adjusted his own Kippah and then Erich’s, securing the boy’s cap with a clip, before smiling broadly, ‘Well? Shall we do this, family?’
Liesl and Erich gazed up at him, nothing short of adoration in their eyes. Unlikely as it might have been, she and Daniel had made a family with Liesl and Erich, the son and daughter of a first cousin she’d never met. Peter Bannon was the son of Elizabeth’s uncle, a man who left Ireland for Germany and married a German woman. She remembered Christmas cards and the occasional letter, but there had been only minimal contact with her father’s brother in Berlin. She suspected the hand of her mother in that, she wouldn’t have had much truck with foreigners. Elizabeth could still hear her voice now, her nose wrinkled in distaste at anything foreign. Erich and Liesl were Peter’s children sent to her by their mother Ariella who was a Jew. At the time of her sending them on the Kindertransport, Peter was missing. It all sounded terrifying and Elizabeth had agreed immediately to help. Technically she and the children were cousins, but she felt like their mother.
‘Let’s go.’ Liesl said, holding her brother’s hand. She wouldn’t embarrass him by such a gesture in front of his friends, he was thirteen now and very conscious of what his peers thought of him, but in the safety of their own home, they were affectionate and loving to each other.
The 1929 Morris Minor that Daniel got in return for fixing a farmer’s tractor had seemed like a dead loss when he and Levi towed it to the farm. The farmer had been embarrassed to pay such a great engineer with a battered old car that hadn’t even fired for years, but Daniel assured him he would get it moving again, and with Erich’s enthusiastic help, he had. It was a four seat two door fabric saloon, with a four speed gearbox, Erich explained proudly to anyone who would listen.
They were one of the few families in with a car of their own and though petrol was severely rationed, and travel was accordingly restricted, they decided today was a red letter day and they would drive to the farm.
The Farm was a refuge for the Jewish children of the Kindertransport and their adult carers, and it had, over the years since 1939 become part of the fabric of . The children attended the local school, and the European refugees were well known faces about the village by now.
Erich sat in the back seat and Elizabeth sat beside him, allowing Liesl to take the front seat. Normally Liesl sat behind but Elizabeth felt the boy she thought of as her son needed some reassurance.
‘Rabbi Frank is giving me a tallit , normally men have their own but we don’t so there are some that anyone can use.’ Erich explained though Elizabeth knew it already. The Rabbi had popped in for coffee during the week to the school and addressed her class, explaining everything about the upcoming Bar Mitzvah.
‘It will be a lovely day,’ she reassured him, ‘and after the ceremony, there is going to be cake, and sandwiches, and Bridie from the sweetshop has made a donation of some lollipops so it’s going to be really special.’ She put her arms around him and pulled him close to her, she felt his thin body relax against her. He had grown so tall and gangly since he first arrived, a small anxious boy, determined to be brave. He was almost as tall as her now, and his dark hair was like silk. His features were different to his sisters and Elizabeth wondered if he looked more like Peter or Ariella. She’d never met either of them, and she never would meet her first cousin Peter now. They’d had notification of his death. They’d not heard from Ariella in such a long time, but Europe was in chaos, so that might explain it. The children wrote to their mother each week religiously and Elizabeth encouraged it, but they’d not heard a single thing from Berlin for four years.
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