As a child I took lessons in music and singing, and my father taught me how to read. My father arranged for me to spend many long hours at Whitby Abbey reading in their library. I was especially fond of reading the works of the 7th century poet Caedmon, who once lived at the abbey.
Spending time at the abbey caused me to be attracted to the life of a nun, and so the good sisters of Whitby Abbey looked into a placement for me at Rievaulx Abbey, an 11th century Cistercian convent in Yorkshire, not too far from Whitby.
My father would not allow me to join the Cistercians, and in 1324 when I was 12 years old, he arranged for my marriage to Lord Dannicus Arianedale of Hereford. As the oldest son, he was his father's sole heir. He was 20 years old when we married, and his family was at first pleased with me, as my dowry was extensive and I was already of child bearing age. Of course, Dannicus was meant to have a son to inherit his large estate, but just two months after we married, a horrendous plague swept through England, and my husband died childless. I now run the estate, but my sister-in-law, Reynalda Arianedale, the widow of my husband's younger brother Roger, looks forward to the time when her child becomes the sole heir of all my holdings. I am happy with this arrangement, as Reynalda’s child is very dear to me.
For many years after my husband’s death, I lived with my sister-in-law, Reynalda, and spent much of my time at the cathedral, which houses one of the most extensive libraries in England, including Mappa Mundi, drawn around 1280. I also made regular retreats at the Cistercian abbey in Tintern, just south of Hereford on the River Wye, and helped support them with large donations.
My world fell apart, when I heard shocking tales of my late husband’s immoral lifestyle before we were married. Fearing that he might be suffering dreadful tortures in purgatory for his past sins, I consulted Reynalda as to what I should do. Alas, Reynalda had fears that her late husband, as well, had a past that could very well keep him in purgatory with his brother, both of them unable to experience the beatific vision of our Lord. We decided that a pilgrimage to Jerusalem would assist them in paying off their sins, so we headed out with a group of travelers for the holy land.
We saw marvelous things along the way, and I was able to purchase a shard from the holy cross, as well as a knuckle bone of St. Stephen. Unfortunately, we also saw many horrors in the wild and dangerous lands through which we passed. Many terrible acts were committed by barbarians, but some were actually committed by crusaders, which left us all shocked and horrified.
On the way home, our caravan was attacked in the night. We still have no idea whether it was barbarians or Christians who attacked us, but Reynalda and I escaped into the woods, where we came across a band of gypsies who gave us refuge.
We found the gypsies to be generous, kind-hearted people with a love of life that included dancing, singing, and merriment. We grew to love them, as they grew to love us. They adopted us into their family, gave us gypsy names, and taught us their ways. I fell in love with a beautiful gypsy man named Stefan, and we were engaged to be married. The day before our wedding, however, Stefan was out in the woods gathering flowers for my hair, when he was attacked and killed by roving bandits. Devastated, I felt I could no longer stay with my new family, as every day with them made me feel the loss of my love even more.
I decided to return home, but knew I could not live my life as Isolde Arianedale, nor could I go back to my old ways. I knew I had to continue practising the gypsy ways that my dear family taught me. I will live free and unencumbered by the rules of society, and I will dedicate my life to the principles of truth, generosity, and compassion.
Our full gypsy names are used only within the family, but you can call us by our shortened names. I am Shalda, which means musician, and my sister-in-law is Yee, which means heart.