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Proprietor Hercules (Roman name), also known as Heracles (Greek name), also known as Herc (Nickname)

Hercules was getting worried. Aunt Hestia had promised to make fine new tunics for Team Herc, the team he was sponsoring in the upcoming Olympics. The tunics had not yet arrived. Opening Day of the Olympics was not that far away. Herc wanted his team to have fine new clothes to wear as they explored the city and visited the famous temples, to give them confidence.

The Olympics were athletic competitions held once every four years in honor of the mighty god Zeus, king of all the gods. The games were always held in the Greek city-state of Olympia, a city easy to reach by both land and sea as it was located only 10 miles inland from the Ionian Sea. People from places as far away as Egypt came to watch the Olympic athletes compete. The only thing a winner won at the Olympic games was a crown made of olive leaves to wear on his head. Some people placed bets on their favorites, but it was not the bets that got people excited. It was the bragging rights. Those bragging rights continued for the next four years. When winning athletes returned to their home city-state, they were treated like superstars! They got front row seats in the theatres and special foods to eat. It was quite something to win.

This year's Olympics offered foot races, chariot racing, wresting, discus throwing and more. Herc's team had been preparing for the games for four weeks. Athletes from hundreds of other city-states had been preparing for four years. Just the same, Herc was delighted to have been hired by the tiny city-state of Oropus to enter, sponsor, and train their team.

The truth was, Herc was not surprised when a few weeks earlier officials from the city-state of Oropus had knocked on his door. He had received a prophesy from an oracle as payment for a case, the Case of the Reluctant Oracle. You could trust oracles. They could see the future and could not lie. The oracle had told him: "You will train and sponsor a team in the Olympics. You will need a brightly colored sail. You will need a giant bull's head. You will need a map of Olympia. All these things you will need to complete your mission."

When Herc told the Minotaur about needing a giant bull's head, the Minotaur went and hid for two days. Herc looked for him in the woods, shouting: "The head will be made of wood!"

"Oh," mumbled the Minotaur, stumbling out from where he had been hiding. His face was bright red.

"I will never let anything happen to you, my good friend," comforted Hercules.

Herc brought the Minotaur with him to the tiny city-state of Oropus. At first, the people were nervous about having a minotaur in their midst, but they soon got over that. Herc had his good friend, Tor (the Minotaur), training the Oropusian team, and doing a fine job of it, now that he wasn't worried about losing his head. Herc left the capable Minotaur in charge, and traveled back to his hut, where he paced impatiently.

"Hercules," shouted Aunt Hestia from outside Herc's hut, her arms piled with colorful tunics.

They spread the tunics about inside his hut and stood back admiringly. "Aunt Hestia. They're terrific!"

And they were. Aunt Hestia had tie-dyed them with brilliant colors. The most brilliant of all was the deep blue colors in the letters OROPUS TEAM HERC. In much smaller letters, on the backs in vivid purple, the tunics read: Sponsored by The Hercules Detective Agency. One very large t-shirt was obviously for Hercules It said: SPONSOR of TEAM HERC. She had even made a tunic for the Minotaur even though he was not attending the games. No one could come up with a disguise that would allow the Minotaur to safely travel with the team. The Minotaur did not have the ability to shape-shift as did many of the mythical beings in ancient Greece. His real appearance would have startled too many people. But he was a terrific trainer. Herc's team was starting to shape up.

Not long after, the Oropusian ship, taking their team to the Olympic games, swung by to pick up Hercules. Herc happened to be on the shore, carrying a huge statue. Herc had called on Eupiddle, the self-proclaimed world's greatest sculptor, to commission a wooden bull's head to fasten on the prow of the Oropusian ship. But Eupiddle had already created the perfect bull's head made out of wood. It was quite a lucky coincidence, Herc had told him at the time.

"Coincidence? Ha!" had spluttered the sculptor. "The oracle told me I had to make it. You know oracles. They cannot lie."

Like all of Eupiddle's sculptures, it was very life-like. Herc was glad he had purchased the statue, but when he sighted the Oropusian ship, he realized he did not need it.

"Look!" the team shouted as they caught sight of Hercules on the beach. They pointed up. A magnificent sail billowed above them. On the sail, much to Herc's surprise, the artists of Oropus had painted a giant bull's head of a minotaur, and not just any minotaur. It's was Tor's head in brightly colored dyes. It was just as the oracle had prophesized. A brightly colored sail and a giant bull's head. Oracles were amazing!

"We're taking Tor with us to the Olympics," the team shouted with delight. They had become quite fond of their teacher, and he of them. The Minotaur had been shocked to learn the town had created a sail in his honor so he could travel with the team, not in person perhaps, but certainly in spirit. To make sure he was not too depressed about staying behind, the woman of Oropus had the Minotaur taste testing the foods they were making for the festival to celebrate the team's return. He never would have believed he could be this happy.

The team fastened the bull's head to the prow of the ship. Herc raced back to his hut to collect the new tunics. Hercules stowed his gear on board. The team sailed towards the sprawling city of Olympia. As they neared the shore, they moved carefully to avoid the many boats crowding the harbor. People pointed at the prow of their ship with interest and awe. Eupiddle really was a very good sculptor. Others pointed at the magnificent sail with its huge oversized bull's head. It was quite a memorable arrival.

Herc expected to see folks he knew. Many of the gods were sponsoring a team. He knew for a fact that Hermes, the messenger of the gods, had rounded up some exceptionally good runners. Mars, the god of war, was sponsoring the team from Sparta. Hera, wife of Zeus and queen of all the gods, had been bragging about her team from Argos. Daedalus, the famous inventor, had invented some new and improved training equipment for his team. Zeus had already called the gods together, including Daedalus although he was not a god, and had made it absolutely clear that he would tolerate no cheating.

The first good friend Herc spotted was Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, comedy, and tragedy. Like all Greeks, Dionysus loved drama and contests. His special talent was that he could shape shift into looking like any living thing he wanted. For example, he could shape shift into a little mouse or a dangerous animal. His favorite shape was that of a handsome young man, dripping in jewels. Herc knew Dionysus would never miss the Olympic races, but he did not expect to see the handsome young man he recognized as Dionysus waving to him from the shore before the Oropusian boat had even dropped anchor. Herc steered the ship his way.

"Nice sail!" Dionysus called out with a laugh. He tilted his head to one side. "Hey, Herc. I hear you have quite an athlete on board. A real contender?"

So that's what Dionysus was after, Herc thought to himself. Inside information. "No telling," Herc called back. Dionysus nodded, as if Herc had given him his answer. With a wave, he drifted off into the crowd.

Herc and his team pulled their boat up on shore. They were lucky to find a place, or more likely, Dionysus had kept the space open, while waiting for Herc's arrival. Along the shore, as far as Herc could see, boats were pulled up every which way. The city, Herc thought, would be even more packed. This year's Olympics had drawn a huge crowd, perhaps the largest crowd on record. The Opening Ceremony was only one day away, yet people were still arriving by boat, by cart, by mule, and on foot.

Herc recognized some of the men from the village of the enchanted well. They came running, excitedly. "We've been watching for you! We didn't think you were going to make it!"

"Never a doubt!" Herc pointed up at his sail. "I knew he'd get us here in time! He's a mighty fellow!"

The villagers laughed. "We'll be cheering for you!" they shouted. The huge painting of the Minotaur's head billowed in the wind as Herc's team brought down the sail.

Once the Oropusian ship was securely tied to some stakes pounded into the beach, Herc was about to turn his team loose to explore the city when he noticed an enterprising young man on the beach selling maps of Olympia. He remembered what the oracle had told him.

"I'll take two maps," Hercules shouted.

He kept one map for himself, and handed the other to one of the young athletes. Dressed in their colorful, new tunics, the young athletes hurried off, eager to explore the city. The city of Olympia was 10 miles inland, an easy walk or run for the young athletes and for many others who had arrived by ship. There was so much to see, from banners flying to people gathering, things to eat, temples to visit. The young athletes were overwhelmed by the size of Olympia. Most returned to the ship earlier than planned, exhausted by the noise and activity. Soon, they were all back. All except one.

"Where's Aesop?" Herc questioned. Aesop could run like the wind. He could wrestle with the best. One time he threw his discus so far it landed outside the village limits. He was an exceptional athlete. The team knew their best chance of winning was Aesop. Based on the fact that his good friend Dionysus was waiting for his arrival told Herc the word was out that Aesop was indeed a contender. Athletes from other city-states were probably concerned. No doubt people were already placing bets, some on the young athlete to win and some betting he would lose to better prepared competitors. That Aesop had not yet returned was worrisome. "Does he have the map I gave you?" Herc asked.

"Someone needed it. They asked if we had one, and we did."

"So he's out there without a map. Lucky thing I consulted an oracle," Herc said cheerfully. "She prophesized I would need a map of Olympia." Herc was quite worried, but he did not want to alarm the team. "Stay here so no one else gets lost. And get some sleep. I'll find him."

It was nearly dawn when tired at last of searching Herc returned to his ship, hoping the young lad had turned up. Everyone was awake.

"Is he here?" Hercules wanted to know as he hurried on board.

Everyone shook their head no, their eyes deeply worried. The team was no longer concerned about winning. They were concerned only for the safely one of young lad.

"Raise the sail," Herc ordered. "If he's lost, it will help him find us. But watch the ropes. We don't want to drift."

With one hand, Herc helped to keep the ship tightly in place. With his other, Herc studied his map of the city of Olympia. looking for a place his athlete might be.

Soon after, a group of men came running towards the Oropusian ship. "Herc!" shouted the men from the enchanted well village. "Look who we found!"

It was a joyous reunion. "What happened to you?" everyone wanted to know as they pulled down the sail.

"I couldn't find the ship," Aesop explained. "I told people I was seeking the ship with the bull's head. This nice woman gave me directions." Aesop looked up at Hercules and frowned. "Many people gave me directions, and none of them were very good. What I needed was a map, just like the one you have there, Herc. If I hadn't run into these men, I have no idea how I would have found my way back."

"Cheats," declared the men. "A bunch of cheats."

Hercules totally agreed. This was not the time to worry about it. People were already headed towards the Olympic grounds, hoping to find a spot with a clear view of the games.

"Good thing you had your sail up," one man said. "I'm not sure we would have found you without your sail to guide us! They've been squeezing boats in all night."

"We owe you one," Herc said gratefully. The team added their thanks.

"You'll have to hurry, Herc," one man said briskly. "They won't let your team compete if they do not attend the Opening Ceremony together. No exceptions."

"I know, I know," Herc agreed. The men hurried off and joined the crowd headed inland.

"How do you feel?" Herc asked his team. "Do you have enough energy left to compete?"

"Herc! Of course! Let's go!" they laughed.

Herc was the strongest half-god half-mortal in the world. He plowed his team through the mass of people and gods in disguise in time for the Opening Ceremony. Then the games began.

People cheered loudly each time Herc's team competed in an event. They did very well actually. They did not win first. They did not win second. But they did come in 27th in one foot race and 13th in the discus! Which was totally unexpected and very exciting.

The entire population of the polis of Oropus turned out to cheer Herc and his team when they sailed into their home harbor. Herc could hear the Minotaur cheering more loudly than anyone. The Greeks were a strange people. Unlike most other civilizations who only wanted to win, the ancient Greeks honored those who did their best whether they won or lost, especially when facing incredible odds. The team from Oropus won something far more special than a crown of olive leaves. They won a place of honor in the hearts of their village, and in many other hearts in the Greek people who had attended the games. The gods and their trickery did not stop Herc's team from competing. And as far as Herc was concerned, every member of his team was a winner!

Hercules named this case "The Case of the Olympic Team Herc". He tucked his map of Olympia into the file, hoping he might need it again some day. He added a footnote to the file to remind himself of something quite important. The footnote read: "Oracles cannot lie, but you must never ever trust an oracle to tell you the truth." Herc read over his footnote and nodded.

"She could have told me it was Aesop who needed the map," he muttered as he tucked the case away with the other case files from The Hercules Detective Agency. "But that's oracles for you," he added to himself. "Not much help at all."