Skull and Shackles
In the world, there are all kinds of people. There are people who walk, people who take every step with military precision, and people who cringe and cower every step of the way. Amelia Ashford prowls. She’s got an almost liquid way of moving, punctuated by occasional sharp stops and turns and tips of the head, giving her an almost birdlike mannerism. There’s a delicacy and a daintiness behind the way she moves and holds her hands and in how she holds her shoulders, suggesting that at least at some point in her life she was a lady of some noble bearing. Now that reserved femininity is like a tree shedding its leaves, as if subtle grace and decorum are withered leaves falling one by one to be forgotten.
Her birdlike movements are only accentuated by her facial features. She’s got a strong profile with a decidedly hawkish nose, slightly too sharp and prominent to be considered “pretty” in the average sense. Her eyes are pale blue and her hair is equally pale but blonde in colour, leaving her looking rather like a watercolour painting that’s slightly washed out. Her sharp nose is balanced by a strong, competent jawline and full lips. Her brows have an almost permanent furrow to them, as if she’s constantly on the verge of scowling about whatever she’s thinking about. Indeed, the woman is a champion scowler. If looking grumpy was an art form, she’d be a master of her craft.
Amelia was sixteen when she realized she couldn’t do it anymore. It was one of those startling, sudden moments of clarity that come out of nowhere like a brick to the face. And oddly enough, there wasn’t any profound sign or a deep statement that made her come to the conclusion. It was a gap in between a man’s front teeth.
It’s important to go back a bit, because the above statement taken out of context it makes Amelia sound like an angsty, suicidal teenager. Really, nothing could be further from the truth. She was always too shrewd to be angsty and too practical and too much in love with the material world to ever consider suicide as an option.
Amelia Ashford was born Colette Sauveterre, of the ridiculously affluent Sauveterre family, a long-standing, old-money group of nobles. Many generations ago, the family’s patriarch had started a mercantile empire based around the selling of bags, or clothes, or something equally practical. Nobody really knows anymore what the family originally rose to prominence doing, but everybody knows that after amassing a modest fortune, the merchant family won the favour of a king through generous investments and lavish gifts bestowed on the royal family. So the merchant was granted a title and land and he settled back to reap the spoils of his investments and watch as his family grew and flourished. Over the years, the family married into the web of other nobles. thus securing their place at the top of the proverbial ladder. Nothing could have possibly gone wrong. They were set.
Then Amelia came along.
The girl was a disaster from the start— spoiled by the way people treated her due to her status and then burdened with heavy expectations of perfection. She rebelled against the way the family worked at a young age and spent most of her time up trees, or scrabbling along the roofs of the family’s manor, or letting loose the dogs and horses for a good bit of mischief. The child ran amok, a half-wild barbarian queen who enjoyed nothing more than terrorizing her tutors and the clergy and generally anyone else sent to make her behave like a little lady. The harder her parents tried to encourage her good behaviour, the more she rebelled.
When she was twelve, she changed her tactics. She came to the realization that one day she’d be married off and if she had no practical skills or knowledge she’d be stuck in a life she didn’t want forever. Colette applied herself with ferocious focus to studying etiquette and entertainment. Her parents were delighted by this turn in her mood. Unbeknownst to them, she also smuggled in a few old books on how to work with the elements, and how to speak to animals, and which plants were safe to eat and which were poisonous.
By the time she’d turned sixteen she’d amassed a decent, if somewhat piecemeal, knowledge of various skills. Her knowledge of the world was rather more like a map that has been largely chewed by mice, with large gaps in her learning. She knew, for instance, how to read and write but not how to do basic mathematics.
Still, she’d grown into a passably attractive young lady, and her parents decided it was high time to marry her off and make her someone else’s problem just in case she had a relapse back into her old ways. They selected a suitor for her— she never bothered to learn his name, only caring that he was about fifteen years older than her, that he smelled slightly of stale cabbage, and that she was going to be forced to marry the man. He could have been an Adonis and she would have hated him. It was the principle of the matter; she was sick and tired of her life not being her own.
One evening when he was speaking to her at a party, she snapped. It was the gap between her front teeth that made her do it. All she could focus on was that empty space and how it looked like a chasm and she was going to have to spend the rest of her life looking at that damnable gap.
The girl quietly excused herself on the basis of feeling under the weather, and hastened to her room. She packed up a few things, a handful of money, and clambered out the window and ran away. She took on a new name and assumed a new identity, leaving the old her as a forgotten ghost along the road.
Since then, Amelia has lived as a free and altogether irresponsible woman, taking on odd jobs as she grew older and more skilled in the druidic arts. She earned her keep as she moved from town to town, curing people and helping farmers to heal their sick animals and telling stories when she couldn’t find any other way to make money.
By the time she’d turned twenty, she’d made her way to the coastal city of Port Peril and had established a modest business selling poultices and remedies to dock workers and pirates. What she wasn’t prepared for was the night when her tiny shop was raided and she was clubbed over the head to be press-ganged into service aboard a ship.