Lady Maude Ashford
Bah. I'm too old for bravery and too close to death for cowardice.
Description: There is something martial about the severe chin-length cut of this woman's wavy silver hair, and there is something martial about the woman's posture and build, still straight and solid, though she tends to favor the left leg when walking, and while the over impression is hard and lean, she's undoubtedly softer in places, around the middle, around the hips.
Age has also softened the lines of her face, and etched her weathered skin with a web of scowling or grinning lines. Her narrow eyes, however, remain adamant, a gray that hints of stormy skies, and her mouth is thin but expressive. She may have been strikingly attractive, once, and the bone structure is still there, all hard angular contours, an aquiline nose, proeminent cheekbones and a strong chiseled jaw.
Personality: Maude Ashford is a drunkard, a harsh taskmistress and a boodthirsty, heartless brute, as well as a shrewd, calculating tactician. Some say she once yelled and whipped a breaking battle line back into order, from horseback, with a stick. Some say she carries candy in her satchel, for Ashford children, and silver for the widows and orphans of her troops. Some say she's a bitter, broken shadow of her former self.
A brilliant commander, but more comfortable over a map or written orders than on the battlefield, not for lack of personal courage, which she often displayed, but out of distaste for the messiness of imperfect battles led by imperfect captains. Give her a dozen of herself, and she would pacify Arvum, she might say. Today, after personal and military disaster, she's lost some of the piss and vinegar that once drove her. In some ways mellower, favoring the quiet life in the family's domains, booze tastings and mastery of board games over the din of the battlefield, in some ways as prickly as ever, she's an old noblewoman, she will do as she pleases.
Background: Maude Ashford is the younger sister of Larian Ashford. There was an heir, and she was free to dedicate herself to courtly life and knighthood. A brash young knight, she grew in service to Grayson and the Crown, and became a formidable and respected military commander. Respected, but rarely beloved. Her methods were often accused of being too harsh, her plans at times too elaborate, too clever, too demanding, and she did not easily stir the hearts of her soldiers as others so easily might.
She married, largely, out of love, with a second-son of a vassal house. She had a son. Her husband died of prolonged illness. Her son died at her own hands. She did not wield a sword, but a quill, a set of orders and a map, and the horn at her second's side on the battlefield. Her plan should have worked, would have worked, if not for want of a horseshoe, or a call sounded too late, or orders misinterpreted. The Shavs surrounded the bold, valiant vanguard as it charged through the clearing, and the reserves did not reach them on time through the woods. Her forces were routed, and Gannon, her son, butchered.
Maude Ashford had enough victories on her record that her career could survive a defeat, but not this one. She fled the court, she sought out lesser and lesser assignments, further and further away, deeper and deeper into danger. Years into obscurity, she was gravely injured, in bed for months, and out of the battlefield for a year at least. Afterwards, she remained a military advisor, taught classes on strategy, wrote proposals for reforms of the army, and eventually retired to a quiet life in the Ashford estates.
She did her sword drills in the morning, she rode, she hunted, she read military and historical treatises, she played board games with old friends, often by way of courier, and received copies of military reports. She sometimes traveled, just to keep up with courtly life. She drank. One day, after pouring over recent reports and receiving news from nearby settlements and minor lords, she sent off messengers, saddled her horse, and set out for Arx.