I had a very vivid dream last night in which I had accepted a challenge to a duel. It was to be a sword duel, to the death. The dream actually started out with me exploring an elaborate fountain, a three-story structure of bronze-colored Grecian columns rising out of the water and greenery, something like the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, only with a vaguely sci-fi Star Trek: TNG feel; but as I climbed inside the fountain the sci-fi elements faded away and, perhaps by climbing to the top of the fountain, I reached the castle/estate to which I had journeyed for the duel.

Some rich, evil man was sponsoring the duel. His champion, with whom I’d be dueling, was an androgynously handsome short-haired woman (or was she a man?) who didn’t talk to me but just practiced her swordplay. I examined the place where we’d be dueling, which was a large terraced balcony on the top floor of the estate, decorated with plants and grapevines growing out of the earth. The whole place had a Mediterranean feel, and when I arrived it was early afternoon and the sun was bright. I was vaguely nervous that some of the men’s servants, who were hovering over me, would take the opportunity to off me then and there as I stumbled while examining the arena. The swordswoman (?) I would fight was wearing peculiar high-heeled shoes. I had the option of wearing high heels as well, or alternately, some sandals which struck me as crude and liable to slip off my heel. While I was thinking about my footing, my brother arrived; he was the first person to arrive for the duel, and he waited at one of the patio tables, reading a book.

Then I went inside, into the lattice-windowed rooms hung with grapevines, and I started writing the essay I had to finish before the duel. It was either my last will and testament, or just an assignment that I couldn’t leave hanging before the fight. I was afraid that I was going to die, because the other duelist was so much better than me — I knew nothing more about swordfighting in the dream than I do in real life — and I was sure that I would be cut to pieces and killed, unless maybe I was able to lunge in with a lucky blow. Unable to decide on my footwear, I asked someone if I should duel barefoot, and they laughed. I continued working on the essay, and hours passed, until night had fallen and the estate was crowded with rich aristocrats and wealthy folk, drinking and dining, who had come to watch the duel.

I felt embarrassed and angry, as I hadn’t realized just how many people would be in the audience, and it was one thing to die but another thing to die and be humiliated in front of a mob. Still, I had a few people in my corner — my brother was there, and some family and friends. But I had to finish my essay before I went out to face the duelist who was still practicing her swings and thrusts with the same easy grace, ignoring the chattering and gossiping of the ever more eager crowd. Then I suddenly realized it didn’t matter if I finished the stupid essay. If I was going to die anyway, it didn’t matter, and I was angry at myself for wasting the last few hours of my life working on this tedious task. I got up from the desk with the essay left incomplete and went out to begin the duel.