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

Hercules was out helping a local farmer plow his field. The farmer's mule was ill, so Hercules had volunteered to pull the plow to help out the farmer. In exchange. he knew the farmer's wife would send over some fresh bread whenever she baked. Hercules would have helped in any case, but there was nothing like fresh bread to cheer him up. Besides, he needed the exercise. Things had been rather quiet recently. There were no new cases for the Hercules Detective Agency. Hopefully things would perk up soon.

They had just finished plowing the field when Hercules saw a group of well dressed men approaching his villa.

"I have to run," he told the farmer. "Can you get the plow back to your barn by yourself?"

"Not as easily as you," the farmer laughed. "But I can manage. Thank you again for all your help."

"You're very welcome," Hercules told him, then off he ran to his villa.

Hercules arrived before the men and had time for a quick wash down before they knocked on his door.

When all the greetings and ceremonies had been completed, Hercules asked the men what they needed.

"Hercules," the leader explained. "Most traders work by moving cargo by boat on the sea. Because of that, there are many wonderful ports and port cities. Only, not every town was founded on a coastline. Some were founded at the base of the mountains in the interior. We are a group of traders who take goods from Athens into the interior of Greece to reach these isolated city-states. There are not many traders like us. We have to go over some rough country to get to where we trade. The roads are not very good, and in some places there are no roads at all. But it's important to reach all the towns on the Greek peninsula, not just the big ones along the coastline. It's been our honor as well as our business to supply these isolated villagers with goods from Athens."

"Okay," said Hercules, so far bored with the whole thing.

"Lately," the spokesperson continued, "whenever we organize a trading group to the interior, we are attacked by flying creatures. These large birds drop down from the sky and always seem to catch us by surprise. They scatter the horses and then rip into our wagons. They take any food they can find, and also any gold, silver, and gemstones they can grab. We need these things to trade. It's true that we are helping villagers in the interior, but we are business people. We need to make a profit to continue trading in his manner. Unless we can find a way to protect ourselves from these monsters," the spokesman paused and shuttered, "we will have to give up our idea of trading in the interior and trade along the coast instead."

Flying monsters! Hercules began to listen. This was a case he might be interested in taking!

"We would like to hire you to protect us from these monsters. In exchange, we will pay you in gold."

"I will take that deal," agreed Hercules, "with two additions. I need one wagon or chariot for me and my armor and weapons. And second, you will have to provide all the food and drink for the trip there and back."

"Deal," agreed the master trader. "We leave in five days from Athens. The round trip takes about two weeks, sometimes longer."

"I'll see you in Athens, in five days," promised Hercules. Satisfied with the outcome of their visit, the traders left quickly before Hercules could change his mind. Hercules might be nonchalant about fighting winged monsters, but they were terrified.

"Tor," Hercules said later, while the two friends were resting in their courtyard. "I need to talk to you about something."

"Whatever it is, sure," yawned the Minotaur.

"I'm going to be gone for at two weeks on a case, maybe longer, probably longer."

The Minotaur sat up. "That's great! I was planning on spending some time with my music teacher in Oropus, but I didn't want to leave you alone."

Hercules laughed. "And I didn't want to leave you alone." He filled the Minotaur in on the case.

"Sounds like a dangerous one," the Minotaur sighed.

"Yep. It sounded that way to me too," Hercules agreed happily.

A few days later, after setting everything in order, getting the Minotaur off to visit in Oropus until he got back, and getting the local farmers to keep an eye on his house, Hercules set off for Athens.

He arrived in town the day before the caravan was scheduled to leave. After checking in with the traders and getting a room for the night, Hercules decided to do a little sight seeing.

Athens seemed to be getting bigger each time he visited, but with all the temples, government buildings, and marketplaces scattered around the city, it was fascinating.

The next morning, bright and early, the caravan set off. Hercules was surprised to find a large, sturdy, locked metal box in his wagon.

When he asked the master trader, he was told, "That box contains the gold and silver we need for the trip to buy supplies and shelter. We felt your wagon was the safest place in the whole caravan, so we put the box there, if that's okay with you," the trader added hopefully.

Hercules simply nodded in agreement, as it made perfect sense to him. He did move his wagon, though. The traders had placed his wagon at the front of the convoy. Hercules moved it to the middle of the convoy. It was a much better place for the safety of the traders. If the convoy was attacked, Hercules could rush to either the front or the back of the convoy more rapidly, whichever was needed. The traders agreed wholehearted with his logic, especially those traders who were driving wagons at the end of the convoy. With things arranged to everyone's satisfaction, the convoy began rolling out of town.

Two days out of Athens, the convoy entered some very rugged land. Hercules increased his vigilance. He got his armor out and put it on. He made sure his weapons were ready and within easy reach.

It was lucky for the convoy that he decided to prepare ahead of what the traders had told him would be the dangerous areas.

With a screeching sound, monsters dropped from the sky and grabbed onto a couple of the wagons. They were very large. They had wings, like birds, but faces like shriveled up women. They had legs, but their bodies were covered with feathers. They were terrifying in sound and appearance and smell.

Hercules grabbed his spear and confronted the monsters.

"Stop!" shouted Hercules. "I am Hercules and this convoy is under my protection! If you do not stop, I will put a real hurting on you!"

The monsters stopped their screeching. In the silence, one of them spoke to Hercules.

"Hercules, we are creatures of Zeus. We are the three Harpies and unless you want to make Zeus angry, you will get out of our way." As a group, the three monster birds started to move towards Hercules, snapping their sharp claws in a very threatening manner.

"Harpies," boomed Hercules. "I am the son of Zeus and I don't think he will mind if I beat on you."

That made the Harpies stop in their tracks

"Hercules," cooed the leader of the Harpies, her voice gravely but obviously attempting to be soft and sweet. "We do not wish to fight with the son of Zeus or any god, really. We are just taking food to survive. When we are raiding, our bird side takes over and we steal all the shiny stuff - gold, silver, gems, anything that catches our eyes. But we don't really want it. What we want, what we need, what Zeus allows us, is to grab food."

"I think I see a solution," Hercules announced calmly, if you are willing to be reasonable, all of you - you Harpies and you traders."

Amazingly, all three Harpies and all the tradespeople waited to hear what Hercules had to say.

Hercules struck a deal between the merchants and the Harpies. The Harpies would protect the convoys, and the merchants would leave them payment in food, a great deal of food, at the end of their trading trail, each trip, before they returned to Athens.

The Harpies puffed their feathers. They snapped their claws. They made weird faces, possibly to communicate. "Deal," they finally agreed.

"Deal," agreed the master trader.

For the rest of the trip, things went smoothly, so to speak. The terrain was very rough and jarring. Hercules was tossed about on his wagon as the convoy traveled from one place to another. Hercules remained vigilant, but there were no more attacks from the flying monsters. So far, at least, they had kept their word.

Hercules enjoyed visiting the many tiny city-states that dotted the interior. Each had its own government and its own way doing things, like all Greek city-states. Instead of being a big city, each was just a tiny village surrounded by farmland. Some villages were ruled by kings, some by councils. Sooner or later, Hercules knew, many of these independent villages would be scooped up by one of the larger city-states. But for now, they enjoyed their independence. Hercules was pleased to discovered that his reputation had preceded him. The villagers in all the towns knew about the Hercules Detective Agency. In the evenings, in each village, Hercules told the villagers some of the stories of actual case files, much to their delight.

It was a long trip. They visited many villages. Hercules was glad to get home. He had solved the case, quite easily as it turned out, and learned something very important. No matter how rural the village, the people of ancient Greece all believed in the same gods. They spoke the same language. They thought of themselves as Greeks. Ancient Greece had never combined itself into one country with one ruler. It remained a collection of city-states, hundreds and hundreds of city-states, some very big and some very small, whose collective population all believed in the same things. It was really rather amazing. The villagers he met might have been in awe of his reputation, but Hercules found himself in awe of the simple fact that he might be half man and half god, but he was, without a doubt, just like the rest of the countryside, 100% Greek, and that was a mighty fine thing to be.