The island of Barcola was primarily Nivalese. The inhabitants had managed to repel a mainland occupation a half-century prior by pulling the majority of their people into the mountains and fighting a brutal guerrilla war against the colonizing forces. In the narrow mountain passes, the mainlanders' usual tactics of shielded firing lines and phalanx-style close combat were completely useless. The colonists tried to starve out the natives, but the lush tropical mountain provided everything the canny islanders needed to live. The fight was long and bloody. The Colonists brought in the Magistrate after the natives began resorting to burning ships and warehouses. The Magistrate's forces were better trained and outfitted, but dedicated themselves to protecting the ports only. To their credit, they opted not to get involved in the conflict in the mountains. That meant the wealthier colonists had to foot the bill for mercenary forces. It was expensive. The Mainlanders did successfully settle the coasts of the island, but they never prospered. The natives made life so hard for the mainland settlers and so dangerous for trade ships that Barcola was simply bypassed as a trade port by most major shipping companies. The risks were just too great.
So economics did what guerilla warfare could not. The fight dwindled to occasional skirmishes. The settler population thinned. The Magistrate eventually withdrew its forces and left. When that happened, the more stubborn mainland settlers found that the natives were a fairly accepting and forgiving people. The two cultures eventually overlapped and blended as the islanders came down out of the mountains for the first time in two generations. Bad blood still existed, and the islander culture was irrevocably changed, but in the wake of the conflict the island prospered. Now, it was known as one of the richer trade ports for two hundred leagues. Their primary exports were sugar, molasses and rum, but they were also becoming well known for their colorful fabrics and dyes. When the mainlanders came, they brought weaving technology with them, which the natives embraced. With their bright colors and soft textures, Barcola textiles were becoming very popular.
Will and Lace didn't get to experience any of it. Instead, they got a lesson on the history of the island from Jack. The three of them were in the galley again, washing dishes while the rest of the crew was on shore leave. Eventually Jack ran out of Barcola trivia. Through the small port window, they could hear hear the intricate, upbeat sounds of music. Kettle drums and intricate rhythms and the occasional whoop of some kind of flute kept them company as they scrubbed pots. It sounded like some kind of festival was happening nearby, which just salted the wound.
"Three days," Will sighed. "Think the Captain planned this?"
"Of course," Lace snorted. "Vex wants to make sure a punishment gets its point across. She's never cruel, but she sure knows how to make you remember not to fuck up later."
"I didn't even think about how long it would take to get here, and how that would overlap with our extra duties," Will shook his head. There was a part of him that was impressed with the Captain's deviousness.
"I hope you've learned your lesson then?" Jack asked Will archly.
"Definitely. Next time I want to set you up, I'll be more subtle about it," Will smiled sweetly.
"Good. So much time away from me clearly made you sloppy," Jack said, snapping his back with the towel she was using to dry pans.
Will's head snapped around as the wet towel stung his back. He gave her an unamused look. "I'm going to let you have that one, because you're right. I am sloppier now. So are you."
Jack arched an eyebrow. "Oh really? How so?"
"You believed me when I said I was going to let you have that one," Will smiled. Jack's expression had just enough time to switch to worry when Will snapped his hands out of the sink and sent a full stewpot full of sudsy water right at her.
It was sweltering again. The island port was even hotter than the open sea had been, and they were working much earlier now in hopes of finishing the job soon enough that they could get off the ship for a while. All three of them were soaked to the skin. Will had already taken his shirt off and hung it near the door. Lace was wearing her usual strip of cloth around her chest. Today it was green. Jack was having less trouble today. The previous day's clothing experiment hadn't gone nearly as well. Jack only had sturdy trousers and durable long sleeve shirts. After day one of having to twist and tie her shirt she'd decided she needed something better. Yesterday she'd tried a cook's apron. It might have worked for someone build like Lace, but Jack had spent a lot of time trying to keep her breasts from coming out the sides. It became a running source of amusement for Lace and Will. Tonight, she'd opted for a halter made out of a sail patch. It was essentially a square of cloth folded over into a triangle and then tied around her ribs. Then she'd offset the two ends of the square that made up the triangle's top point and tied them around her neck. It was functional and comfortable. It was also suddenly soaked mostly transparent.
Jack's shocked, dripping expression sent Lace and Will both into peals of laughter. Jack slowly wiped the water off of her face with her now completely sopping towel and wrung it out onto the floor. "I will pay you back for that," she said flatly. She began to blot herself slightly drier.
"Good. Both of us have clearly lost our edge," Will smired.
"You two are crazy," Lace snickered.
Jack looked down at herself, noticing exactly how little her sailcloth halter left to the imagination now. She side-eyed Will and turned around to continue drying herself. "Well played, Sterling."
"You pull that stunt on me, I'll skin you," Lace said to Will. She sounded amused, but it was hard to tell how much she was joking. Will flicked her with sudsy water and grinned, then went back to washing. Lace glared, but it was clear she was trying not to laugh.
"This is bloody useless," Jack muttered. A sopping towel hit Will in the back of the head. Heis face wrinkled in disgust and he pulled the cloth over his shoulder as it began to slide down his back.
"You volunteered for this," Will shrugged.
"I volunteered to wash dishes, not be soaked to the skin and exposed to any observer who happens to walk in," Jack said tersely.
"You want me to get you another sail patch" Lace asked. "I have a few of these that would probably fit you too." She gestured to her own chest.
"No, it's fine. We're the only ones on the ship, it's nothing Will hasn't seen before, and I'm not concerned with your eyes wandering," Jack shrugged.
"After your fight against the apron yesterday, there wasn't much left to the imagination," Lace smirked.
"Why have I been relegated to comedically exposing myself? How did you two escape this fate?" Jack asked, rolling her eyes.
"We're both wearing less than you are?" Lace shrugged.
"Oh yes, that's clearly the problem. I'm wearing too many clothes," Jack deadpanned.
"I'm just sayin', dousing us with water wouldn't change much," Lace gestured between herself and Will. "Hell, we were already pretty well soaked."
"Will doesn't have to worry about modesty," Jack snorted. "And it seems you don't either."
"The hotter it is, the more uncomfortable modesty gets," Lace shrugged.
"Ah. Your exhibitionism is merely pragmatic. I understand," Jack said dryly.
"I don't get a kick out of people watching me. I just don't care. Let 'em look. I dress for comfort, and to make climbing around all day easier. When it gets colder I'll add more layers," Lace worked as she talked, rinsing a large pot and handing it back to Jack.
"If it gets hotter will you wear even less?" Jack asked.
Lace grinned. "Maybe. You think I should?"
Will was idly looking out the porthole towards the sunset as the women bantered. The last sliver of the sun had just dipped below the horizon. The whole western sky was painted in deep oranges and reds. Now was the best time of day to look for silhouettes. It had become one of his shipboard habits. He spied a few boats and distant islands. Some seabirds. Then he blinked and squinted. "What the hell?"
He wrung his hands out and dried them as best he could on the wet towel. Then he left the galley without a word.
Lace and Jack looked at each other in surprise and confusion. "He's a strange sort of fellow, ain't he?" Lace asked.
"Sometimes," Jack said looking at the doorway. She knew Will well enough to know he wasn't upset and that they weren't in danger.
"Think we should follow him? I'm kinda curious," Lace asked.
"No, he'll call or come down here if he needs us," Jack shook her head. "He wouldn't tell us what's going on until he had a full idea himself anyway."
"Not often you see a guy bolt from the room while ladies are talking about how little clothing to wear," Lace scoffed.
"If the sounds from the Captain's cabin last night are any indication, I don't think Will is terribly sexually frustrated right now," Jack shrugged, taking over Will's spot and starting to wash again. She pulled a pot out of the water and propped it up on the ledge next to the sink.
"Here, let me show you how to do this right," Lace said. "Keep it in the water until it's clean. Go by feel. You don't need to see the grit to scrub it. Then just pass it to me to rinse, I'll give it back if you missed a spot."