That's all he will ever amount to - at least that's what he tells himself.
He's officially called a stablehand, but they hardly need him for anything else outside of mindlessly raking hay.
He can't help that he wasn't born a noble. His dad worked hard his whole life, only to die from a small cut on his leg that turned into an infection.
He and his mom couldn't afford the healer, despite his mother's work as a romance author. They especially can't afford education for him, making the jobs he qualifies for extremely limited.
It was sheer luck that they found someone willing to bury his dad in a mass grave at a low cost. They even promised they would have a local priest bless it so necromancers wouldn't disrupt his eternal rest.
His name is Henry Mattson. He's 19 and lives in a shack with his mother. They aren't the only ones living under these conditions. Everyone around them works themselves to death and can only afford a shack as well.
They live in a town called Hydrogia in the country of Peroda. It's a coastal town that takes the brunt of the bad weather and sees all the ships that come to see the king.
They have beaches, but they're rocky and cold most of the year. The weather is usually bad, and there isn't much they can farm there outside of potatoes.
Most people who live in the village are farmers who raise animals. The village is half surrounded by a wall on the landward side, but the ocean is open to the villagers. The nobles didn't think it was worth the cost to surround them with walls. They see the villagers as expendable, knowing if one of them dies, there is more to replace them.
The villagers know their place in the world, and most are satisfied with that.
Except for Henry.
Ever since he could remember, his mom's bedtime stories were from the romance novels she wrote. Most nights, he falls asleep dreaming of a life better than the one he could ever hope to have.
He wants to be the hero.
He wakes up each morning more disappointed in his hopeless existence.
Last night was no different. He dreamed he was a prince set to marry a young queen in a different land. He never wants to leave his dreams.
He woke up in the morning, washed his face with cold water from the well that he has to share with everyone else, and got to work as a stablehand early. The knights are back from an expedition and need a lot of hay raked for their noble steeds.
To be fair, sometimes he does other things if he's asked to, but most of the time he ends up raking hay.
While he was working, he got knocked over into a pile of hay by one of the knights. His name is Arin, and Henry tries to avoid him as much as he possibly can.
Arin drops his horse off at the stables after his expeditions, and the ferocious beast becomes the stablehands' problem. He always returns the same way: drunk and out of his mind, with a new hickey on his neck.
If Arin has had a lucky night, sometimes he'll be nice enough to throw a silver coin Henry's way. The few times that has happened, Henry was able to drink one mug of beer in the tavern like the others that are his age. Unfortunately, that's only happened a handful of times and friends are rare.
Henry wants to hate Arin so badly, but when he reflects further, he realizes he's just jealous of the life he was born into.
They stand at the same height—over six feet tall. The main difference between them is that Arin has muscles and Henry is scrawny; Arin's hair is golden blonde and Henry's is black; Arin has a complexion of nobility, but Henry's skin is evidence of working outdoors for a living.
Arin's family, the Wrights, owns the land, and all Henry and his family members can afford to do are tend to it. The Wrights treat peasants worse than they treat their guard dogs, and are allowed to do so because of the difference in social status.
These thoughts keep Henry up at night. There's no fairness in a world with a feudal system. He's tired of feeling like a flea on the back of a horse.
There has to be more. He won't be satisfied until he finds more.
As Henry swept the uneven cobblestones of the street right outside the stables, he heard the sound of hooves hitting the pavement. He had already dealt with some return knights and didn't know he should be expecting more.
Complaining to no one, he mumbled, "I thought I was done for the day. No one ever tells me anything."
He was looking forward to his one full meal of the day, but he would have to wait even longer. Dinner was usually some kind of stew. The entire day so far, he had only had a half loaf of French bread, and his mother wonders why he was so skinny. He had his father's height but the width of the scarecrow behind the house.
The clopping of the horse hooves on the hard ground became louder, and Henry looked up, expecting to see more knights, but the metal rake fell from his hands, and his mouth hung open like a fish out of water.
Atop a black horse, its pale green skin shining in the late afternoon sun, a goblin rode in with a club raised in the air.
Henry screamed and fell into the doorway of the stable.
He wondered how a goblin got into the village knowing there were knights returning today.
After all his stress about whether or not he would live longer than his father, who died at 50, he's going to die before 20.
He was tempted to lie there and accept his fate, but as he looked toward the ceiling, he saw one of the knight's saddlebags. Strapped to it was a long, black sword, and his eyes widened.
He pulled his legs completely into the stable and stood up.
Out of curiosity, he raised his arm and placed his hand over the leather grip on the hilt of the sword.
He asked himself, "What would the hero do in this situation?"
He slowly pulled the sword out of its sheath and felt embarrassed when he had to use his other arm to get it out completely.
"A lot heavier than I thought it would be," he muttered.
Without thinking further, he dragged the sword out the door, determined to face the goblin.
At the speed the goblin was approaching, Henry was going to have to act quickly. It was going to hit Henry over the head with a club if he didn't get to it first.
Henry could tell the goblin was angling the horse to run right past him, and he used all his strength to lift the sword above his head. Only one slice was required, and the upper half of the goblin's body fell to the ground at his feet, with its lower half getting stuck on the horse and riding away.
Henry screamed an embarrassingly high-pitched scream.
Black blood had erupted from its body as it was sliced in half, and the dark liquid got into Henry's eyes and mouth.
He dropped the sword immediately, and, at the sight of the goblin convulsing at his feet, he turned towards the doorway of the stable and threw up what little contents were left in his stomach.
Henry didn't notice the crowd of people gathered behind him, including the knight whose sword he just used and dropped to the ground.