The first logical place to search for my family was with other family and friends. A cousin who owned a farm not far from my farmstead — or rather what was my farmstead — had not seen my family and had heard of no other disturbance coming from the other side of the river. Harry and I heard a similar story from more than one friend.
"I know this probably won't make you feel any better," Harry said, "but at least this border raid has not affected the entire region."
I smiled, realizing what my young friend was trying to accomplish. "You are right. It does not make me feel better about my family, but I am happy for my fellow Iberans."
"Cheer up, Mr. Cotton." Harry took a sip from his mug of ale. We were resting at a tavern in the town closest to the border, which we thought would be the most likely place for my family to be other than one of the closer farms.
"And what reason do I have to cheer up?" I asked, lowering my eyebrows slightly, almost squinting at him.
"Because no news isn't necessarily bad," he replied, taking another sip. "Here's how I see it. We didn't find any sign of your family on the farm, so they must be out here somewhere."
I stroked my bottom lip with my index finger, pondering his statement. "I will admit it was obvious that animals perished in the barn fire," I said finally, "but you saw what the house looked like. Would we find any sign of them?"
Harry didn't answer the question. Instead, he replied, "Ibera is a big place. We have just begun to look. Someone will know something eventually."
I didn't blame him for dodging the question. Answering it would mean dwelling on an unpleasant scenario, making every effort we had made meaningless. I had gotten over the initial shock and was even starting to come to terms with it.
I was going to give Harry the benefit of the doubt and look as long as I could stand it. In time, though, I would need to let it go, if for no other reason than to ease the pain that this search was bringing upon me.
I would probably return to the army camp, apologize for deserting and get back to work. I didn't have a reason to return to my farm and rebuild. There was no one to share it with me. Fighting back at Handrin seemed like the only thing left for me to do.
When we were getting ready to leave, Jon Hanway walked into the tavern and delivered a message to the owner. On his way out of the building, he caught sight of us sitting at our table.
"I didn't expect to see you here," Jon said after greeting us. After I asked him what he had heard, he said, "Lieutenant Macabee told me about the incident at your farm. He was mad at first that you left, but I think he understands. Have you found your family?"
"No, and we have talked to several people from my farm to our way here. Not sure which direction to head next."
"Well," Jon replied with a nod, "don't give up hope. I'll put my feelers out and see what I can turn up."