"Tested" is an account of a medieval crusader wrestling with the trauma and morality of war. This is the second letter to his brother.
Year of Our Lord 1099, July
I send this to you more out of confusion than anything else. The past week has been brutally terrible for me, and I pray that you only tell mother that her son is doing fine. But for you brother, you deserve to know what would make women faint if they heard.
Yes, we have taken over Jerusalem. There was a long siege, where we had to wait for not only reinforcements but where we had to construct weapons to breach her defenses. Saracens met us at every assault, driving us back. After a long day of fighting we would retire to our camps. But even there we weren’t safe. Rats by the hundreds made their home among us. For every one we killed two took its place. I have been eating roasted rat for the past ten-day with no respite.
The problem with the rats was that they brought the plague. Dozens of men die every night. Come day break we burn the bodies in a hope we have eliminated the curse but to no avail. I have been blessed by the Lord not to receive such dangerous injuries or even the slightest hint of disease. But that means that I must fight.
I have lost count of the days that we have spent fighting. I have lost count of the hours spent trying to get inside the city. We pushed like a pincer, attacking both the north and the south gates. And in the end we prevailed. Their spirits broken, the Saracens abandoned their defenses and led our way to victory.
That was when the things began to become dark, as if the world already wasn’t dark. In our overjoyed conquest, our men entered the holy city as victors. But still Saracens and Jews were slaughtered. I have heard that some were granted protection that hid in the mosque. But to my knowledge even they had died. I fear that none survived the massacre. I fear that the only Saracens that remain are the ones who ran away before the battle.
The holy city smells of death. It reeks of blood and decay and dying. I wandered the streets with some of the others. But Jerusalem doesn’t look like how I thought it did. To me it doesn’t feel like our Lord is in these hallowed homes. How can this be the home of our Lord and Savior when the streets run crimson with blood?
There is something that you must know. In my wanderings of the city we came upon a band of Saracens. They weren’t fighters, they were unarmed. They were frightened of us. The men I were with charged into combat. They shouted out “Death to the Saracens! Glory to the King!” I hesitated behind them, watching them fight. I made my decision to join them in the battle. They needed my help. Saracens were meant to be put to the sword.
I tripped in my advance. I fell to the ground and into the blood that had run to my shins. In my shock I breathed in the blood. The copper taste spread throughout my mouth and I gagged. I struggled to stand, but it isn’t so easy when wearing full armor. My hands flung wildly in the air above me. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see. I was going to die. A pair of hands grasped mine, and pulled me up. I gasped in relief, and coughed hard to expel the blood from my lungs. My eyes cleared, and I looked to my savior.
It was an old man, a Saracen.
At that moment I looked him in the eyes. There was this quiet understanding passed between us. Then he gurgled as a sword came out his chest. The man behind him cheered as the Saracen fell into the blood at our feet.
I’m sorry brother, but I am afraid that I can’t remember much after that. The day passed in a haze. That man’s eyes haunts me. I am afraid I don’t know what I am doing anymore. If they are so evil, so despicable to us, then why did he save my life?
I need time to think, to reflect. I need to pray. I will send this missive with the first courier I can. I pray earnestly for you and mother.