Sunday 29 December 2019

What the Plague Brings by Amy Maroney - A Story Inspired By A Song

Read the Story
Guess the Song
here's a clue...
Purse, Wallet, Money, Finances

Whenever Ramón de Oto’s father returned from a violent spar with enemies in Cerdagna or Vallespir, the boy was flooded with an odd mixture of relief and excitement. Relief because his father had come back to him alive. And excitement because his father was a very fine storyteller. Without fail, within a day or two of his return, the baron would call for his son and the two of them would savor an evening in front of a blazing fire.

Blaze, Fireplace, Bonfire, Burn, Coal

Ramón’s favorite was a ghoulish tale about the plague. The story was downright terrifying, especially when it spilled from the lips of his fierce-eyed father, enthroned on an oak chair before the massive hearth, a wolf-pelt draped over his shoulders. There was something eminently comforting about sitting on his father’s knee, watching the flames dance, listening to words so familiar he could recite the entire tale himself—and often did, when his father was away at battle.
 During the first wave of the Black Death, his father would begin, their family had managed something extraordinary. Thanks to their ancestor Baron López de Oto, the house of Oto had not only survived the plague, it had soared to a dizzying pinnacle of power.
The disease had destroyed the very fabric of society all over Aragón, Ramón’s father explained. Thievery and murdering became the norm. There was no end to the violence, and no way to bring criminals to justice. Any fine house that was shuttered during those dark days would soon be looted.  It became commonplace to see street urchins parading around in stolen finery. 

Castle, Knights, Fortress, Walls

But in their remote mountain castle, the de Oto family lived as they had always done, out of reach of these horrors. And perhaps they would have escaped the plague unscathed if the baroness had not gone to visit Lady Almaz, the wife of one of their vassals, who was expecting a new baby. When the baroness did not return as promised a month later, Baron López de Oto sent a pair of guards to bring her back. But they failed in their mission, saying the ferryman refused to transport them across the river that lay between the baronial lands and the Almaz home. The town on the opposite river bank had been struck by the plague, the guards explained. Fires burned day and night there, incinerating corpses and sending a nauseating stench across the land.
 López de Oto armed himself and ordered the men to return with him to the river. Promising the ferryman a pouch of gold coins (and liberally applying the sharp point of his longsword to the man’s chest), he led his horse aboard the craft and bade his guards to follow.

Cave, Monk, Boat, Lantern, Water

 Once across the water, they learned from one of the town’s few survivors that the magistrate, the bailiff, and the notary had all perished. Quickly they spurred their horses south along the dusty roads, not pausing until the stone walls of the Almaz home rose up before them. No guards blocked their way. Indeed, the massive oak doors of the house were ajar and no servants were about.
 The scent of death hung in the stale air as López and his men stalked through the silent corridors. Striding upstairs to the bedchambers, López discovered corpses that had already begun to rot in their beds, their bodies covered with the pus-filled boils that were the hallmark of the Black Death.
 In her oak bedstead, Lady Almaz lay dead, her baby still in the womb. López stood over her, tempted to cut it out with his dagger to see if it was still alive. He had heard the story of a long-ago king of Aragón who emerged from his dead mother’s womb in this fashion. A band of lance-wielding Moors had attacked the royal party as they were passing through a peaceful valley, and the pregnant queen was left dead on the road. A quick-thinking baron cut the baby free after happening upon the scene of the massacre. Judging from the corpse on the bed in front of him, Lady Almaz had been dead for days. There was no chance any life still pulsed within her womb.
 He moved from room to room until he found his wife. She lay contorted on top of the bedcovers, her face twisted in a macabre grimace. The sight of her disheveled nightdress and the tangled hair that lay across her face made him shudder with distaste. She had borne him several sons, but he had never held the woman in his heart. After all, she was from Béarn, over the mountains, a foreigner who had been traded to his family in return for prime grazing lands in the Pyrenees. He would soon find another, younger wife.
  Hastily he rolled her body inside the bedsheet, heaved it over his shoulder, and lugged it outside. Within an hour López de Oto and his men had removed all the bodies from the house, piled them in a stubble field, and lit them on fire.

Fire, Flames, Bonfire, Sweden, Night

Watching black spirals of smoke sail into the cloudless sky, López folded his arms and waited for the charred skeletons to crumble into ash. Then the wind shifted and dark smoke coursed toward him. Eyes watering, he wheeled and returned to the house. Standing in the empty hall, he eyed the wooden chests that squatted against the stone walls. They were locked. He strode to the armory and pulled a battle-ax off the wall. With two decisive strokes of the ax, he smashed the iron lock on the first chest and flung it open. It was jammed with silver plates and cups. He decided to carry the family’s valuables back to his own home for safekeeping. 

Treasure, Jewels, Pearls, Gold, Silver

And so began the baron’s struggle to safeguard the possessions of Aragón’s noble houses. He began a regular practice of forays through plague-stricken lands, flanked by guards wearing battle armor. While the epidemic raged and more families were struck down by its horrors, López grimly patrolled the fields and valleys, checking on widows, finding homes for orphaned children. In the case of a family being completely obliterated, he would dismiss any surviving servants and collect all the valuables he could find.
Time went on. The baron remarried and sired more sons. In his later years, he quietly loaned the royal family funds to prop up the foundering kingdom of Aragón and was gifted land, castles, and ships in return. When the plague was only a distant memory, López de Oto looked back at his actions through a pragmatic lens. He had simply rescued the wealth of fellow nobles from the grasping hands of thieves and murderers. The loot was, of course, returned to those families whose heirs survived. But when entire families had been wiped out, there was nothing to do but keep their possessions. Without any heirs to claim it, the wealth belonged to no one.

Pipe, Smoke, Man, Beard, Addiction

Despite the obvious heroism displayed by their ancestor, Ramón’s father always concluded it would not do to speak of the man’s deeds to anyone but a son of the house of Oto. Each time he told the tale, he ended it the same way. He would lean so close that his beard brushed against Ramón’s cheek, and he would growl into his son’s ear. Some things, he warned the boy, were best kept within the family, passed down from father to son. And this tale was one of those things. 
Shuddering with dread at his father’s menacing tone, Ramón always nodded shakily and vowed to keep the story to himself.
Then his father would ask him, “What did you learn from López de Oto, my son?”
And in his best imitation of a man’s strong voice, Ramón would reply, “Fortune favors the bold.”
His father would smile in satisfaction and drape an arm around the boy. At this moment, when the time for talking was over, Ramón always experienced a deep peace that he rarely encountered again during his lifetime. Relaxing against his father’s warm bulk, he would drowse until bedtime, the companionable silence broken only by the crackle of fire and the faint moan of wind slipping through chinks in the castle’s stone walls.

Masonry, Stone, Stone Masonry, History

© Amy Maroney

Amy Maroney is the author of the Miramonde Series, which tells the story of a Renaissance-era female artist and the young scholar on her trail. She lives in Oregon, U.S.A. Her latest novel, A Place in the World, was published by Artelan Press in September 2019. Learn more at

Did you guess the title?
Chris De Burgh - Don't Pay The Ferryman

Amy Maroney grew up in a family of bookworms and was happiest perusing the shelves of her local library, checking out the maximum number of books each week, and harboring dreams of writing her own novels one day. She studied English literature at Boston University, and worked for many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction. Now she lives in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. with her family. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, drawing, dancing, swimming in mountain lakes, and—of course—reading. She is the author of the Miramonde Series, a historical mystery trilogy that tells the story of  a Renaissance-era female artist and the young scholar on her trail. 

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There will be another story inspired by a song tomorrow!

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The Full List of Authors

2nd   M.J. Logue   First Love 
3rd   Richard Tearle Chips and Ice Cream
4th    Helen Hollick Promises, Promises
5th    Paul Marriner Memories
6th    Pam Webber One Door Closing
7th    Louise Adam Hurt Me Once
8th    Barbara Gaskell Denvil Sticks and Stones
9th    Judith Arnopp Secrets
10th  Erica Lainé  Silk Stockings
11th   Anna Belfrage Hold Me, Love Me, Leave Me? 
12th  Annie Whitehead Frozen
13th  Tony Riches Alas, My Love
14th  Clare Flynn, Zipless
15th  J.G. Harlond The Last Assignment
16th  Elizabeth St John Under The Clock
17th  Alison Morton Honoria’s Battle
18th  Jean Gill The Hunter
19th  Patricia Bracewell Daddy's Gift
20th Debbie Young It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas
21st   Ruth Downie  Doing It Properly
22nd Nicky Galliers What God Has Joined
23rd  Elizabeth Chadwick The Cloak
24th / 25th Christmas Break
26th  Helen Hollick Ever After
27th   Barbara Gaskell Denvil Just The One... Or Maybe Two
28th   Deborah Swift Just Another Day
29th   Amy Maroney What The Plague Brings
30th   Cryssa Bazos River Mud

 Note: There is copyright legislation for song lyrics 
but no copyright in names, titles or ideas

StorySong graphic by @Avalongraphics 
additional images via Pixabay accreditation not required


  1. Dark and rich like the song inspiration - good choice! New angle on a plague story and I love the notion of a kind of courage that dare not speak its name. On the plague theme, which is a rich seam of inspirational stories in dark times, perhaps I can mention here that there's a Historical Fiction anthology of Black Death stories from nine authors coming in spring 2020 - not as depressing as it sounds!

    1. That sounds an interesting anthology Jean - can you get an ARC PDF or mobi to me asap so that we can review it here on DDRevs? (email me on author@!)

  2. Absorbing! I was there, in front of that fire, heat on my eyes and just the breath of wind fanning the flames!! Excellent!!

  3. I could feel the heat of the crackling fire, the intensity of the family secret, the devastation of a raging killing plague. Yet here is heroism in the face of terror mixed with a neat sense of pragmatism. Great story! And as usual, I didn't guess the song... :-)

  4. Fabulous story. And so beautifully written as one would expect from such a wordsmith. Once I'm back on social media I will share and tweet this. Meanwhile thanks Amy for such a stunning tale!

  5. Amy has wonky internet at the moment she's asked me to post on her behalf:

    here's my reply to the comments so far:
    "Thanks so much for your kind words, Richard, Jean, Alison, and Annie. I enjoyed writing this story immensely...I can't get enough of the Barons of Oto and their world! All my best, Amy."


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