Episode 276. A Hero's Path Smells Like Flowers (1)

The old Iberian Grand Duke immediately began working on informing the entire continent of the duality and atrocities of the Holy Kingdom. However, the Holy Kingdom was one step ahead of him.

‘The Indomitable Grand Duke has colluded with the Demon King and placed the Warrior in danger.’

‘In the process, the Holy Kingdom’s archbishop was murdered and the Holy Sword was stolen.’

That brief message was sent out in all directions and the entire continent was thrown into chaos. 

The downfall of the hero of the continent, one who had announced the fall of the West and played a major role in raising the awareness of the Demon King in the Central region, was enough to confuse the people. 

“This is impossible!”

Of course, some of them expressed disbelief at this unbelievable news. They strongly protested against the news. They argued that Kim Seon-Hyeok was the spouse of the new Empress of the Adenburg Empire and personally had enough title and reputation, so why would he feel the need to collude with the Western Demon King?  

“How many survivors did the Indomitable Grand Duke save from the West, at the risk of his own life? How many other people were saved by him on the frontlines? But now you’re saying that such a person colluded with the Demon King? Impossible.”

The heroic and dedicated actions of the Indomitable Grand Duke supported their words. 

“The Indomitable Grand Duke’s drake has already been stained black. I saw with my own eyes the drake trying to tear apart the archbishop of the Holy Kingdom with its teeth. And in the end, the archbishop was killed by the Indomitable Grand Duke.”

But when an eyewitness appeared and testified to the downfall of the hero, the voices of those who had been supporting the Indomitable Grand Duke while watching the progress slowly began to quieten.

“More horrors of the demonic energy are hidden than are revealed, so we mustn’t forget how the demons corrupted by the demonic energy have changed.”

“The Western lands are overflowing with demonic energy. Seeing how long the Indomitable Grand Duke has fought in those lands, it isn’t surprising that he has become corrupted by the demonic energy.”

“Unfortunately, it was because he was more devoted than anyone else that eventually led to his downfall.”

The rumors that spread at the perfect moment were quite plausible.

It was true that the Indomitable Grand Duke had spent more time in the West than anyone else, and it was equally true that he had been exposed to demonic energy for the same length of time.

On top of that, it wasn't easy to dismiss the status of those who had witnessed the corruption of the Indomitable Grand Duke. Every one of them was a commander of an army, and they had also made significant contributions in the war against the Demon King. 

They placed their honor and faith on the line as they swore multiple times that they saw the Indomitable Grand Duke murder the archbishop and flee with the Holy Sword.

However, that wasn’t the end. 

“The Indomitable Grand Duke isn’t as good or as righteous as the rumors made him out to be. How can a man, rumored to be a devoted knight who is always willing to risk his own body, watch safely from the sky as his allies die?”

“Although he declared himself to be a guardian, I have seen the Indomitable Grand Duke assault the Warrior Park Joon-Min several times in the past. In light of all this, I am questioning whether, contrary to the rumors, the Warrior and the Indomitable Grand Duke has actually been at odds with each other for a while now.”

As if they had been waiting for it, terrible rumors about the Indomitable Grand Duke quickly spread.

Soldiers who claimed to have stood on the battlefield with the Indomitable Grand Duke soon appeared and testified that he wasn’t as righteous as the rumors said he was, and because of that, some people were caught up in the atmosphere and created all sorts of absurd rumors. 

“Although he is covered by the halo effect of the Empire, in the end, the Indomitable Grand Duke is nothing more than a killer. The number of soldiers and knights slaughtered by him cannot be counted. It is ridiculous to say that such a person is a compassionate and devoted hero. He is a murderer and a warmonger.”

In the past, the people had enthusiastically praised the Indomitable Grand Duke for his heroic deeds and didn’t hesitate to call him the continent’s greatest hero. But that enthusiastic atmosphere couldn’t be found anymore. 

In the midst of all the fabrication and rumors, the Indomitable Grand Duke was reduced to a fake hero created as propaganda by the Adenburg Empire. 

“Anyone who hides or protects the Indomitable Grand Duke will be considered as being hostile to the Holy Kingdom and a suitable price will be charged for it. Conversely, if there is anyone who reports the whereabouts of the Indomitable Grand Duke, or leads the Holy Kingdom, then we, placing the Holy Kingdom’s name on the line, promise a tremendous reward.”

Although the Holy Kingdom had exhausted a lot of manpower in the long war against the Demon King, their influence was still at its highest since their foundation. This was only natural since during the war, the powerful positions of the central kingdoms had been filled by people who were friendly to the Holy Kingdom.

Now, those people took the lead as they rushed around searching for the whereabouts of the Indomitable Grand Duke. It seemed that the entire central region was desperate to catch the Indomitable Grand Duke. 

But even in the midst of the hostile and blindly obedient atmosphere, there were still those who expressed their doubts on the corruption of the Indomitable Grand Duke. 

They were those who had actually worked with the influential people of the Holy Kingdom and the Indomitable Grand Duke. These people didn’t believe the groundless rumors and assumed there was something more to the story.

But because they didn’t know what the inside story was, they remained silent.

However, their silence didn’t last long. 

“It was the Holy Kingdom, not the Indomitable Grand Duke, who colluded with the Demon King. The Holy Kingdom made a deal with the Demon King so that the Warrior Park Joon-Min couldn’t run solo. They even had the audacity to reject the Holy Sword’s owner that God himself had chosen. 

Iberia vehemently denied the Holy Kingdom’s claims. 

“The Holy Kingdom had been the one to ask the Indomitable Grand Duke to help search for the Warrior Park Joon-Min and without hesitating at the distance of several thousand kilometers, The Indomitable Grand Duke went alone to the western region to find the Warrior. And in the process, he fell into a trap laid by the waiting Demon King and suffered incurable injuries after a desperate battle.”

The continent turned upside down once more. The Indomitable Grand Duke’s supporters had been silent for so long, but now, they came to the front and expressed doubts about the Holy Kingdom’s allegations.

However, once public opinion turned hostile, it didn’t change easily and the central region’s fanatics didn’t listen to anything but the words of the Holy Kingdom. To them, the Indomitable Grand Duke was a traitor who colluded with the Demon King. 

The enraged fanatics dismissed even Iberia as traitors who colluded with the Demon King. When compared against such fanatics, there were only a few people who would rationally question or express concern over the actions of the Holy Kingdom. 

There was a lot of commotion, but in the end, the central region branded the former Indomitable Grand Duke as a traitor. But that was only until Iberia circulated another batch of messages everywhere using the mages. 

‘The Indomitable Grand Duke is a hero. He was the first to announce the fall of the West, and he alone made tremendous achievement by rescuing the survivors of the west when no one else attempted to do so. And finally, the Indomitable Grand Duke succeeded in annihilating the Demon King and removing the seed of evil. Not only is it extremely ungrateful to defame such a person, but it is also a crime against humanity.’

Once again, public opinion flipped when news that the Indomitable Grand Duke had eliminated the Demon King. Of course, the Holy Kingdom didn’t just sit there allowing it to change.

They said that Iberia’s argument was an unscrupulous attempt to steal the credit when the reason the Demon King didn’t appear was because of his fight against the Warrior. 

The shocking claims that continuously popped up made it difficult for people to know what the truth was, and later on, depending on their own understanding and beliefs, they criticized or took the Indomitable Grand Duke’s side.

While that was going on, the Holy Kingdom moved the central kingdoms. The central kingdoms who shared a border with Iberia moved their troops south and threatened Iberia. 

“Iberia will sacrifice our lives to protect the Indomitable Grand Duke for making a grand contribution to the peace of the continent.”

Iberia didn’t budge. While public opinion was being upturned several times, Iberia had also been preparing for the war. 

“The Indomitable Grand Duke is in Iberia’s Granado.”

And because of their bold response, the people came to know that Iberia was protecting the Indomitable Grand Duke.

***

“Thank you for coming.”

After a long time, they had finally met Seon-Hyeok again, but he was very different from their memories. They felt a burning rage welling up in their chest as they looked at his pale face. 

“Although we doubt how much help we could be, we couldn’t just sit there and do nothing.”

Kim Seon-Hyeok was a great knight who never lost his stateliness even amongst countless monsters. However, he currently looked no different from a patient who was struck by a deadly disease and was dying.

All of this was because of the damned Holy Kingdom bastards.

Burning fiercely with enmity, John gripped the spear he had made hastily. When he turned around, he saw that it wasn’t only himself, the other refugee men were the same. 

They had never fought properly with a spear in their lives, but now, they had a bloodthirsty expression as they looked like soldiers who had experienced all kinds of hardships on the battlefield.

Perhaps they felt like they owed their great savior a debt for saving them from despair, but now, their savior was being shunned. They were people who only knew how to quarrel so they wouldn’t lose the small piece of bread they held in their hands. That was why they had realized all this too late.  

But still, John was grateful that they were able to help him in this way. 

“Your thoughts are more than enough.”

Once again, the Indomitable Grand Duke expressed his gratitude. Feeling so apologetic, John and his men couldn’t raise their heads.

“We’re truly sorry for back then. And, thank you.”

They could only say thank you in a small voice as they looked at Kim Seon-Hyeok turning around as he was supported.

They didn’t know if he had heard it.

Kim Seon-Hyeok gestured nonchalantly with his hand without turning back, and the party could only bow their heads and look on.

***

The Iberian Grand Duke could not figure out why the Indomitable Grand Duke had to draw the attention of the Holy Kingdom by revealing his location.

But Kim Seon-Hyeok had a reason for everything.

Not long after the information that the Indomitable Grand Duke was at Iberia spread, people began to gather. 

John, one of the refugees, was one of them.

No one knew where they had gotten the weapons, but dozens of western refugees had come clutching their crude spears with the intention of signing up for the Iberian Army despite their fear of war. 

There were already hundreds of refugee volunteers. 

“Huh, Indomitable Grand Duke, what the hell kind of a person are you…”

The Iberian Grand Duke truly admired the Indomitable Grand Duke. He knew that Seon-Hyeok had made countless sacrifices for the continent, but his respect rose even further when people continued to line up to help the Indomitable Grand Duke even knowing the dangers that would be involved.

And even after that, countless people continued to flock to Iberia. 

They were all from different backgrounds and were all different ages. The only thing they had in common was that they owed their lives to the Indomitable Grand Duke and that they wanted to repay that debt now.

Of course, the reality was, they didn’t contribute significantly to the overall power.

Even if there were thousands of refugee soldiers, it was questionable whether they would be able to handle a dozen or so infantrymen the kingdoms had trained. 

But because of their enlistment, the Iberian army’s morale soared to the sky. Doubts about the Indomitable Grand Duke, which had sprouted amidst the propaganda and falsification of the Holy Kingdom, disappeared like it had washed away.

This was only possible because they were refugees who had nothing. 

If even the refugees, who were at their lowest, were willing to disregard their own lives for one person, then that person couldn’t be as wicked as rumors made it seem.

“If the Indomitable Grand Duke hadn’t come forward at that time, then we would all be dead. Can you see it? The image of the Indomitable Grand Duke stepping forward alone to stop the Demon King in that hellscape?”

“Among the aristocrats of the central region, none of them is great enough to take care of yokels like us on the battlefield. I’m saying that he stepped forward to protect us when even the lords abandoned us, telling us to block the frontline.”

Through the words of the refugees, the heroic deeds and sacrifices of the Indomitable Grand Duke began to spread. And based on their story, the Indomitable Grand Duke was still the splendid hero he had originally been until the propaganda and fabrications of the Holy Kingdom. 

There wasn’t any more doubt of who spoke the truth between Iberia and the Holy Kingdom. Hundreds of eyewitnesses were in front of them, talking all day about the Indomitable Grand Duke’s righteousness.

“Oh, what a relief.”

The mercenaries who had been hesitating for fear that they would be branded as traitors for fighting on the side of the devil accepted the contract with Iberia.

And so, the mercenaries who signed the contract left Granado and headed towards the fortress on the border.

But, there still weren’t enough troops. 

Since many central region’s kingdoms had offered to help the Holy Kingdom, the severe lack of troops couldn’t be easily filled. Even though Iberia had hired mercenaries using enormous amounts of wealth, there was still an overwhelming gap between the two sides. 

A large fleet had set off immediately to bring back reinforcements from the mainland of the Adenburg Empire, but it took time for them to return with the troops. Preparation for war wasn’t something that could be done in a day or two. 

But even with all that, the Indomitable Grand Duke was still very relaxed. 

“If things turn for the worse, you’re not thinking of escaping on your own, are you Grand Duke?”

Even though he knew that the Indomitable Grand Duke wouldn’t do something like that, the situation was so bad that the Iberian Grand Duke couldn’t help but ask the question sharply. His anxiety was fueled by his resentment towards the Empire and the eastern kingdoms for remaining silent even when the situation had reached this point.

“If I say something, I tend to keep my word as much as possible.”

Although he still sounded weak, the Indomitable Grand Duke's still voice contained a strange sense of power because his wounds had fully healed.

“I apologize. In my uneasiness, I made a mistake. I know that you are not like that, Indomitable Grand Duke.”

The Grand Duke of Iberia belatedly realized his mistake and apologized.

“I understand. It must’ve seemed like I was being too laid back.”

The Indomitable Grand Duke accepted his apology.

“Well, it’s about time they come.”

Before Velazquez could figure out the meaning of his words, an urgent message flew in from the fortress on the border.

“It’s said that the Northern Cavalry of 20,000 men broke through the siege of the central kingdoms on the border and have reached the border fortress!”

“What?! Why are they…?!”

The messenger who ran in with the message shouted ecstatically.

“The 20,000 Northern Cavalry! They’ve expressed their intent to help!”

Astonished, the Iberian Grand Duke looked towards the Indomitable Grand Duke. He looked calm. It was as if he already knew they would be coming.

“The warchief of the north, Darun and his cavalry, are the brothers that I have spoken of.”

Before the first messenger could leave, another messenger came to the Iberian Grand Duke.

“The support forces from the Eastern Kingdom Alliance have disappeared from the front line!”

And not long after that, a message arrived at Granado from the Adenburg Empire.

‘Iberia is not alone.’

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