"Tested" is the latest work of Christian fiction by a member of our congregation, Zack Vandermuelen. It features the letters of a medieval crusader to his family as he wrestles with the trauma and morality of war.
Year of Our Lord 1099, June
Brother, it pains me to hear of father’s passing. I always thought that he would live for forever, or at the least my return from the crusades. I feel like his very face haunts my dreams at night. He was never pleased with my decision to go and fight, and I know he had prayed fervently for his son’s return. I am sorry that he won’t be there to see me return victorious. I wish very dearly to return to pay my respects, but until I am finished all I can offer are a sinner’s prayers.
But I am pleased that you are now head of house. Well, I am not pleased that it is not I who now bears our family name but that is of little consequence. Our Lord must have a reason for all of this. After all, it is you not I who has a greater head for numbers; is that not why you work with the court and myself for the Lord? I pray that you lead well, brother.
Now I know mother is eager for news of myself, so enough about the troubles of home. Worrying about something I cannot change will do no one any good. Our company has left Antioch since last I writ. We journey ever so closer to the holy city of Jerusalem. And as we wage combat against the Saracens my consolation is that we are doing the Lord’s work, that we are retaking the holy city from the heathens that hold it.
Don’t tell mother, but it has not been easy, brother. Men are starving, and dying, every day. In order to survive men have raided the locals in hope for meat and grain. Sometimes they are successful. Most times they are not. They are even rumors that the hungriest feast on the flesh of the children. Just thinking about it makes me sick to my stomach. Because of our families position I am one of the few men here who does get rationed some food. But even that is hard and dry and tasteless. What I would give to eat the scraps we fed to the dogs!
But there is hope, brother. We do the Lord’s work and I must remind myself that daily. If not, I don’t know how I can justify the necessary horrors that we have committed. With every step south I can feel our journey ending. With every league we take the closer we are to our goal. Some nights I stare south to try and catch a glimpse of that holy city. More often than not I find myself staring up at the stars. The look so much brighter than they do in old London. I’m not sure why, but they look more beautiful here in the wilderness than in the safety of my own home.
A courier has to take reports back to Constantinople. He leaves soon, so I must finish this letter so he may deliver it to the proper hands for me. I pray God’s blessing over you and mother. I pray that I will be home soon.