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  Roo’s Multiplication Matter  

Tsukasa and the others were out bringing reform to Dormundt.

Winona, having returned to Elm Village, was treating the wounds Ulgar had sustained in his battle against the monster known as the Lord of the Woods.

“Wow, this is really something. The wound’s already almost completely closed.” It was hard to imagine it coming from an attack that had sliced his guts to ribbons. As Winona unrolled the bandages and disinfected the wound with alcohol, she marveled at Keine Kanzaki’s handiwork. “And the stitch is so clean, it probably won’t even leave a scar. That Keine kid is something else.”

Ulgar, who’d awoken from his coma the week before, was currently wincing a little from the sting of the disinfectant and made no effort to mince words.

“You know, you could learn a thing or two from her. You sew up people like you’re sewing up dishrags.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine! Having a few dozen scars makes a guy look more handsome anyway.”

“For heaven’s sake, hun… You saying stuff like that puts the beauty you inherited from your late mother to waste. If you don’t learn some delicacy, how will we ever find you a new husband? There’s this little thing called tenderness, y’know. Ever heard of it?”

“Don’t go setting your sights too high, now. I’m your daughter, after all. There, your new bandages are all…set!”

“OW!” Ulgar let out a pained yelp as Winona slapped the man’s back hard enough to leave a handprint.

“And besides, this is no time to be thinking about marriage. We just picked a fight with the empire, y’know.”

“…A lot happened while I was out, huh.”

“Yeah, you missed your chance to show off.”

“Ha-ha, that I did.” Ulgar laughed heartily. Not once had he criticized the decision they’d made. After all, he was pretty sure he would have done the same if he’d been in their shoes.

“I gotta get better quick so I can go join the fight.”

“Don’t go trying to act cool, Pops. Leave the bravado to Elch and enjoy your retirement.”

“…Elch, huh. He’s off helping young Shinobu sneak into Buchwald right now, yeah?” To Ulgar, that had been the most surprising development since he’d regained consciousness.

Elch was clever and good in a fight, but because of that, he had a bit of a calculating side to him. Ulgar could hardly believe that same grandson of his had agreed to go on an espionage mission.

“He’s gotten brave of late.”

“He’s your grandson and my and Adel’s son, you know. The boy knows how to pull through when it counts. And besides,” Winona added with an ill-natured grin, “I think he has a thing for Shinobu.”

“Oh-ho! Should I expect them to come back with a great-grandchild in tow?”

“Ha-ha-ha, I doubt it. My gut tells me she’s been around the block a few times. That virgin boy of mine’s probably just gonna end up wrapped around her little finger.” Winona laughed her father down, then stood up and gave her tail a light shake to straighten out her fur.

“I’ll bring lunch over, so you just stay there and rest up.” The woman headed toward the door leading out of the shed they were staying in, in lieu of the mayor’s burned-down house.

Before she could get there, though, she heard the sound of creaking wood coming from the other door leading farther inside. She and Ulgar both turned to look, but neither was particularly surprised.

Although the closet had previously been used to hold farming implements, they both knew it had been cleared out so someone could live there. Winona called over to its inhabitant cheerfully.

“Roo, did you want to come have lunch with—?!”

Her tail sprang up in alarm. Roo had come crawling out from behind the door on her hands and knees, so gaunt she looked like a desiccated cat corpse.



“Whew. Roo’s alive again. She’s been brought back from the dead.”

The little girl breathed a sigh of relief. Now that they’d fed and rehydrated her, her body had made like a dried shiitake mushroom submerged in water and returned to its original volume.

Winona got right to business. “How many days were you cooped up in there? There’s such a thing as being too diligent, y’know.”

“I’d just assumed you were using the room’s other door to go straight outside. I had no idea you were in there the whole time. What were you doing, skipping all those meals?”

“Teacher…” Roo’s triangular cat ears slumped as she answered their questions. “Teacher gave Roo some tests she needs to take. He told Roo she can’t come back to the city until she gets a perfect score on the multiplication test… He said that times tables make it easy to remember, but Roo’s having trouble with that, too…”

“What’s a ‘times table’?”

“Teacher said it’s a trick that helps you remember how to multiply.”

“You know about this, Pops?”

“Can’t say I do. Never really had much of a head for letters or numbers.”

“Ha-ha, me neither. I just left all that to Adel and Elch. But hey, Roo, chin up. You don’t need letters or numbers to lead a good life! Just look at us!”

“Right! We’re doing fine! Gah-ha-ha!” Winona’s and Ulgar’s dog ears perked up as they laughed merrily. When Roo looked at them, her young heart was seized by a pang of apprehension.

Roo doesn’t know why…but she’s pretty sure if she listens to them, she’s not gonna turn out too good.

“Anyway, I dunno what to tell you about all that stuff, but first things first.” Winona pulled out a linen towel from a nearby drawer and tossed it to Roo. “You haven’t had a bath since you came back to Elm, right? We’ve got a hot spring now, so why not take a dip? Nothing like getting clean to clear your head.”

Roo hesitated. After all, if she had time to take a bath, she’d rather spend it studying. However, even she could tell that staying cooped up in that room wasn’t doing her ability to concentrate any favors. Also, she reeked, and her hair was all oily and gross. The former slave made up her mind.

“…Okay. Roo will do that…” As Winona had suggested, Roo decided to start by taking a bath.

“One by four is four, one by five is five, one by six is six…”

In order to get in a better headspace, Roo had gone over to the hot spring Tsukasa, Aoi, and Bearabbit had built on the riverbank, but when someone was in a rut, relaxing was easier said than done. Roo floated in the water, her head still swirling with numbers.


“Two by four is eight, two by five is ten, two by six…pick up sticks…?”

—no matter how many times she repeated the times tables like Masato had taught her, none of it stuck.

The numbers are all just floating around. Can’t get them to stick in Roo’s head… All she was doing was single-mindedly listing the calculations off one after another. Doing that made it all feel too abstract, and she would quickly lose focus. The girl’s issue wasn’t confined to just multiplication, either. Back when she was working on addition and subtraction, she’d felt the same.

“Math doesn’t make any seeeense!” She kicked her legs aimlessly, splashing water all around her as she grumbled. Then, her ears picked something up.

“Don’t look, okay? Make sure you don’t look until I say you can! You promise?!”

“I read you loud and clear, m’lord, so hurry up and strip.”

Roo could hear two familiar voices coming from the hot spring’s newly added changing room. It was Prince Akatsuki and Aoi Ichijou, two of the people who’d returned to the village with her.

“…Look, can we please not go into the bath together? It’s super embarrassing.”

“This is a battle you’ve long since lost. At the moment, you are akin to our daimyo, that you are. Having a bodyguard by your side at all times is but common sense.”

“Man, why is this happening to me…? You know, for a break, this hasn’t been restful at all.”

“Why not simply ignore me and relax as though I were not here?”

“Trust me, I would if I could! …All right, I’m ready on my end.”

“I have been ready for some time, that I have.”

“Cool, let’s get in the—WH-WH-WH-WHY ARE YOU NAKED?!”

“Hmm? Does one not always remove their clothes when bathing?”

“Not when it’s a mixed-gender bath! You’re supposed to cover yourself up with a towel or something!”

“As a child of Edo, I despise such effeminate notions, that I do!”

“Quit power posing like that! And besides, you’re a girl, so you should try to be at least a little effeminate!”

“Oh, enough with your whining already! Just get in the bath—!”


All of a sudden, there was a kicking sound, and Akatsuki hurtled through the changing room’s curtain.


Then, he landed directly in front of Roo, who’d been listening intently to their conversation, and a huge wave erupted before the girl.

“You have my deepest apologies. I had no idea there was another bather here. I’ve not brought you injury, have I?”

“N-no. Roo’s fine. Just a little startled.”

The young girl shook her head from side to side to get the water off.

“Akatsuki, m’lord, none of this would have happened had you not put up such a fuss.”

“Y’know, that’s weird. I could have sworn I was one of the victims, yet here I am getting blamed. Something doesn’t add up.” Akatsuki averted his gaze from Aoi’s immodest figure, bubbles rising from his mouth as he complained with half of his head underwater. As far as the magician was concerned, it was clear Aoi was the one who’d taken things too far. Still, they’d gotten an innocent bystander wrapped up in their spat, so he knew he should apologize nonetheless.

When he turned to the victim in question, though, he noticed something unusual.

Roo’s expression, which was normally as bright as the sun in the tropics, was decidedly glum.

“Hmm? What’s got you down, Roo?”

“Now that you mention it… Are you quite certain you’re uninjured, m’lady?”

“Roo’s fine… She just has a lot on her mind…”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“…Well, actually…”

The other two were worried about her, so Roo went ahead and told them about how she was having trouble with multiplication. Akatsuki and Aoi nodded sympathetically. They’d both suffered through the same thing back in elementary school.

“Times tables, you say. Ah, how nostalgic.”

“Yeah, right? We had to learn those back around second grade, too, Roo.”

“How did it go again? Three by one is three, three by two is six, three by three is…do-re-mi?”

“Wait, are you serious?!”

“Ha-ha. The truth is, that was around the time I began devoting myself solely to the blade, so I know little of numbers beyond addition and subtraction.”

“How did you make it to high school like that?!”

“I am a student athlete, that I am!”

“Student athlete programs everywhere should sue you for slander!” While Akatsuki offered pointed comebacks to Aoi’s assertions, Roo bobbed her way over to him.

“Akatsuki, do you know the times tables?”

“I mean, I might be bad at schoolwork, but even I know the times tables.”

Roo grabbed his shoulders, her eyes glistening. “P-please, teach Roo! Teach Roo how to learn them!”

“Uh, I’m not really sure how… Well, for starters, multiplication is just taking the same number and adding it up a certain number of times. Like, three times one is the same as taking one three. Three times two is two threes, so it’s three plus three, so it’s six. From there, you can just add one more of the original number each time.”

“Yeah… Teacher told Roo that, too…” Roo already knew that conceptually, but when she used it to multiply something like three times nine, she’d end up with so many threes, it made her head spin.

“So Roo ran out of time on the test, and she didn’t pass…”

“Yeah, that’s why we use the times table to shorten that long process. Hmm, I guess repeated memorization might be your only option. If you don’t know your times tables, multiplying two-digit numbers is a nightmare.”

“Oh no…” Roo’s ears slumped. She submerged her face up to her nose. The thought of having to keep memorizing that weird chant was depressing.

Seeing how much anguish the little girl was in, Aoi offered her a kind smile. “You know, when I see you working so hard to become a merchant, it reminds me of my own days in training, that it does. I recall being utterly fed up with having to repeat the same forms time and time again.”

“Oh yeah. Learning magic is all about repetition, too, so I know how you feel,” Akatsuki remarked. “And because I know how the tricks work, it’s not even all that fun.”

“You two were the same as Roo…?” The young byuma knew that these two, as well as the rest of the High School Prodigies, were all experts in their fields. However, she hadn’t considered that they’d gotten to that point by going through the same tedious process she was currently experiencing for herself. Such a revelation made Roo curious about something.

“How did you two stick with it?”

Aoi’s answer didn’t take much thinking. “I had an objective, that I did.”

“What’s an ‘objective’…?”

“Something you want to do or perhaps something you want to gain. When I was a child, I watched a period drama called The Unfettered Shogun, and it made me want to take up the sword to protect the powerless. That meant I needed to train, so I did.”

“And you, Akatsuki?”

“Yeah, basically. By the time I was in elementary, I already knew I was going to become a magician. It was the only thing I could really see myself doing.”

“…Roo has something she wants to do, too.” After hearing their stories, the girl remembered she was the same. She and her parents had been loaded onto separate slave ships, but she was going to buy them back and live with them again. That was why she was becoming a merchant. It was why Masato had bought her, for an amount that made Roo’s head spin, no less.


The little girl gave her cheeks a loud clap.

When she thought of those lines of artificial numbers, it had made her light-headed and caused her to question why she was even bothering. But Roo couldn’t let herself complain about something as insignificant as that. She had a dream, after all. The only way to achieve it was by overcoming her current hardship.

“Roo’s gonna try her best, too! She’s gonna learn her times tables, even when they’re boring, and she’s gonna beat multiplication!”

“Very good. That’s the spirit, that it is.” Aoi rubbed Roo’s newly invigorated head.

As Akatsuki watched them from the side, a lightbulb went off in his brain. “Hey, Roo, what’s your favorite thing?”


“Uh…okay. Well, that works. If you’re having trouble just thinking of numbers, why don’t you try thinking of them as gold coins instead? Five times five can be five stacks with five coins in each, that kinda thing.”


Hearing Akatsuki’s suggestion made Roo feel like something had just gone off in her mind. The five stacks of five coins had appeared like a vision in her mind, and she knew instantly there were twenty-five of them in all.

“Roo gets it! She can beat multiplication without needing to use times tables now! Give Roo a problem!” she begged Akatsuki.

“Okay, what’s two times nine?”

“Eighteen coins!”

“Hey, you got it right. Good job.”

“Another! A harder one, this time!”

“All right, well, here’s a tricky one: seven times seven.”

“Forty-nine coins!”

“Wow, seriously? Okay, here’s a nasty one: three hundred and sixty-five times twenty-four.” “Eight thousand seven hundred and sixty coins!” “Geez, that was fast!”

It was the only problem using the hundreds column that Akatsuki knew the answer to off the top of his head, and Roo had answered it without breaking a sweat. Even Akatsuki, the one who’d proposed counting gold coins in the first place, was shocked. He hadn’t expected it to work nearly that well.

“Wow! I know not whether you got it right, but that was impressive nonetheless!”

“N-no, she definitely got it right… I guess when you do what you love, success really does follow.”

“Roo gets it! She gets it now! Roo’s finally conquered multiplication!” The girl leaped around the bathtub excitedly.

Akatsuki knew that her innocent exterior belied a worrying degree of avarice. The magician pondered for a moment if he’d made the right choice, but the girl herself seemed so happy that he decided not to think too hard about it. Besides, she was already Masato’s disciple. That alone meant she was beyond saving.

In any case, though, Roo successfully mastered not just her times tables but even triple-digit multiplication, allowing her to pass her test that day with flying colors. Masato gave her the go-ahead to move on to the next step.


The next day, when Aoi and Akatsuki went to the dining hall to eat their breakfast, they found Roo looking up at the snowy clouds. The light had completely faded from her eyes.


“…Hmm? Akatsuki, m’lord, I thought Roo passed her multiplication test. Why do her eyes look like those of a fish washed up on the shore?”

“Well, y’see…her next test’s on division.”

“…Ah. The merchant’s path is an arduous one, that it is.”

“Too true.”

“Roo’s money… All her coins are splitting up and shrinking… Division is scary…too scary…” For genius businessman Masato Sanada’s finest student, Roo, the former slave girl, the long road to riches was only just beginning.

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