Jedi Master Gold was not overly enthusiastic about being made to attend the Apprentice Tournament.
It was a pointless event, in most cases, but the council thought it to be the perfect showcasing of the Jedi Initiates.
Gold had managed to avoid the Tournament since being an Initiate himself, but now that he was a master, there was know way to get around it.
He would be forced to spend his day watching thirty-two young adults and children mess around.
His mood darkened even more when he actually arrived at the arena. The room was filled with the other masters, and unfortunately, with his least favorite people, the council.
He pulled his hood up, hoping to avoid being sighted, then silently moved to a corner of the room, far away from the masses of other Jedi.
A few of the Initiates attempted to speak with him, but his... reputation kept most of them away.
So, he was able to watch the Tournament in peace, not that he wanted to all that much.
It started out as it usually did. The master who had been asked to hold the tournament walked to the center of the ring, followed by the two oldest Initiates.
This year, Master Yoda was the one leading the younglings onto the floor.
"To the 67th annual Apprentice Tournament, I welcome you all."
There was a thunder of claps, but no screams or cheers. The Jedi were much too controlled for that sort of noise, something which irked Gold to no end.
He was a man of passion. It always been difficult for him to keep a controlled air.
It wasn't natural to shut out feelings, in his opinion, which was why the council was...unhappy with him. His beliefs were dangerous for a Jedi, especially a master.
"To battle first, Dasan I'lean and Belle French, are." There was another round of claps as the two contestants took their spots on different sides of the ring.
The first was a Zabrak male. He was of intimidating size and stature, especially for his age. Gold reckoned he was at least several inches taller than himself, giving him an advantage over almost any opponent.
His opponent's size was laughable in comparison.
She was a human female, a good foot shorter than Gold. He didn't know how to react to the obvious height difference. Either she was a very brave girl...or a very stupid one.
Despite her disadvantages, Gold found himself rooting for her.
She fought intelligently, something that was becoming hard to find among initiates. Most of them attempted pointless stunts, in the hopes of convincing a master of their worth.
When Yoda announced they could begin the duel, the girl instantly took a defensive stance, not turning her back on the Zabrak.
I'lean instantly started with a strong frontal attack, using enhanced speed to spin the attack. Gold thought it was a wasteful approach...the Zabrak would tire quickly.
The girl...Belle seemed to expect the attack. Using her stature to her advantage, she slid beneath the Zabrak, taking a swipe at his lower limbs.
Her training saber met it's mark, burning the soft skin behind the Zabrak's left knee.
Gold grinned, despite himself. The girl had obviously studied her opponent. She could predict his moves and exploit his disadvantages.
He would be watching her with great interest.
The competition continued until lunch break. The girl, Miss French, steadily rose to the top of the pack, followed closely by a Nautolan and a handful of human males.
The Tournament was getting fierce. This was the last chance for the older Initiates to be chosen. If they were not taken as a padawan at the end of the competition, they would be sent to the Jedi Service Corps.
Though it was a noble profession, it could not compare to being a Jedi Knight. It appeared to be good motivation for some, such as French.
As the rest of the Knights and Masters slowly drained away, leaving only a handful of people in the room, Gold found himself looking for the girl.
It wasn't as though he wanted to talk to her. Gold just needed a way to observe her.
When he did find her, he was surprised. The girl was sitting on a mat, directly opposite Master Yoda. They seemed to be deep in conversation, but when he turned to leave, Yoda called out to him," Master Gold, wait you will."
Gold replied with a jerky nod of his head.
Belle French stared up at him, for just a moment, before turning back to Yoda," Thank you for your help, Master Yoda, but I think it's best that I head to lunch now."
Yoda inclined his head. Once Belle was gone, he spoke to Gold," Help you with something, can I?"
Gold reluctantly took a seat next to Yoda," Yes, Master. I was curious about the girl, Belle."
Yoda nodded," Yes, a very talented initiate, she is."
Although Yoda was one of the few masters Gold trusted, he rarely spoke with him.
"Master...are you planning on taking her as your apprentice?"
Yoda's ear twitched, and he laughed at Gold's question," Training young Dooku, I already am. Love to train Belle, I would."
Gold sighed," Oh, I just assumed- I am sorry, master."
Yoda shook his head," Sorry, do not be. Take Belle as an apprentice, you should."
Yoda turned his wise eyes on Gold, scrutinizing him.
"Master Yoda, I am not ready for an apprentice. It would be unfair for me to ask Initiate French-"
Yoda pointed a bony green finger at Gold," Unfair it would be, for Belle to be sent to the Jedi Corps. Cloud your judgement, fear does, Master Gold."
"I am too reckless...I do not listen, I should not take on a padawan!" Gold snapped back.
Gold stood up, wishing he could contain his emotions. Could Belle truly want him to be her master?
"Listen now, you must," Yoda said, calmly," Take Belle as your padawan, you should."
Lunch had ended by the time their conversation had stopped, and Gold marched back to his corner without thanking Yoda.
He couldn't ask Belle to be his apprentice, at least not yet. It would break her concentration, then he would never know how strong of a person she really was.
That was when he decided. If Belle won, he would make her his apprentice, but if she lost, he would not.
It was only fair.
The trials escalated. The top pack of initiates, with Belle at the center, won every match.
Within two hours, all of the other younglings had been knocked out of the competition.
Gold watched Belle intently during every match, trying to assess her strategy. She was a patient swordsman, unlike Gold, she observed her opponents, and allowed them to take the offensive stance in every battle.
It was a strong strategy, but Gold feared it would be predictable. Belle was much too focused on a formulaic approach. It would get her into trouble, especially during real duels.
She was not physically strong, but she made up for that with her speed. Using tactics that were supported by her small stature and build, she was able to bring down all of her opponents.
When it became obvious that Belle would be participating in the final duel, Gold moved out of the shadows. He disliked being in large groups, but he wanted to be the first one to speak with Belle after the duel.
She was up against another human, Tylon Marek. Unlike many of \ her previous opponents, Marek was a studied initiate.
He had won all of his matches in less than five minutes...and Gold didn't like Marek's over-confident smirk when he entered the ring for the last time.
He seemed too sure of himself.
Belle held her ground, as she usually did, waiting for him to set the tone of the duel, but Marek did not attack.
Instead, he Force-pushed Belle back. She hadn't been expecting such an advanced tactic, and his push had been strong enough to throw her against the opposite wall.
Belle's defensive strategy dissolved after that. Marek continued to keep a distance from her, which put her at a disadvantage.
Her only choice would be to take the offensive, which was not her strong suit.
Belle did not move toward Marek...instead she pulled a stunt that left Gold stunned with disbelief.
Miss French reared back, with her training saber in hand, and unleashed a stunning amount of Force power. The power pushed her saber forward in a long arc, flying straight toward Marek's groin.
The other Initiate saw the blade coming, but it was too late. He ducked...but Belle's training saber embedded itself in his shoulder.
For a moment, the room was completely silent. Then, a slow ring of claps started.
Belle's mouth twitched into a smile...she seemed to want to remain impassive, but was too excited to contain her happiness.
Gold smiled a bit himself and made his way to her. It wasn't the best time to make a proposal, but Gold had never been one to wait until 'the right moment.'
"Congratulations, Miss French," He said, bowing his head in greeting.
Belle froze, her mouth hanging slightly open," T-thank you, master."
Gold wasted no time getting to the point," A deal can always be struck when two people are in want of something the other can provide. What do you want, dearie?"
Belle did not hesitate," I need a master." She stared him straight in the eyes, fearlessly sizing him up.
Gold grinned," Well, it just so happens that I need a padawan."
The two spoke about the terms of their agreement in quiet whispers, completely oblivious to the satisfied smirk on Master Yoda's face.