Peer's Quarterly Interview

Defending Sovereign, Church, and Country from the Forces of Darkness

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Peer's Quarterly 20 Questions
with Sir Differel Van Helsing

portrait by Lon Ryden; July 2011

[Editor's Note: This online version is formatted differently from the printed article, in that it contains additional material from the interview that was not included in the magazine.]

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SIR DIFFEREL ISOLDE CHURCHILL PENDRAGON VAN HELSING, 16th Baronetess of Denver and Viscountess Dunwich, is Director of the Caerleon Order of the Companions of St. George, the agency charged with protecting the Sovereign, Church, and People of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Nations from paranormal threats. She is the direct descendent of Sir Abraham Van Helsing, GCVO, the conqueror of Dracula, and King Arthur Pendragon, and has inherited both the Master Vampire and the greatsword Caliburn, better known as Excalibur. Born in 1976, she lost her mother, Gwendolyn Isolde Pendragon Lady Van Helsing, within a week after her birth, and her father, Sir Henry Arthur Richard Van Helsing, when she turned 12. She married The Rt. Hon. Victor Edward Plunkett, 26th Viscount Dunwich, in 2001, and they had a son, Henry Abraham Vlad Helsing-Plunkett, before Lord Dunwich was killed in 2004. Despite these hardships, Sir Differel has acquired numerous honours, including a Life Peerage as Baroness Denver, the George Cross, and being made a Lady Companion of the Garter.

She agreed to sit with us for 20 QUESTIONS, and beforehand gave us a tour of her ancestral manor, where we meet her most important associates: Aelfraed Walters, her butler and Chief of Staff; Mrs. Helena Widget, her housekeeper; Madam Phillipa Trumbo, her executive chef; Magdalene King, Manager; WO Giles Holt, Master-at-Arms; Sharona Turing, Chief Analyst; Dr. Thaddeus Carmichael, Chief Surgeon; and her best friends, Eile Chica and Sonne Hiver, known as Team Girl; as well as her son and her quasi-slave, Vlad Ţepeş Drăkulya, popularly known as Count Dracula. The vampire insisted upon joining us, and we decided to reserve the 21st question for him.

1

PEER'S QUARTERLY: Let's begin with the most obvious: why Sir, when Dame would be more appropriate?

SIR DIFFEREL: For the sake of politics. I started out as a Dame, after I inherited the baronetcy, but when Aunt Mandy [Miranda Guinevere Baroness Pendragon] staged her coup and I killed her, I became Director by default. [See the story "Life of Duty" for more details.] By tradition, the heads of all important government bureaus had been male aristocrats, and while I satisfied the latter condition, nothing could be done about the former. There was talk of putting me aside and naming a man as Director, but the implied threat that Vlad represented caused the Privy Council to hesitate, even though I stated that I would never use him for personal gain. Finally, Her Majesty interviewed me and determined that I was capable of handling the responsibility. In deference to tradition, however, she used her Royal Prerogative to give me special dispensation to be titled Sir. The Council approved her decision and that, as they say, was that. Though I suppose, the fact that Vlad had called me Sir and Master from the moment I released him from his captivity probably had something to do with it. You see, he believed that, being as I was a worthy Master, I deserved a fitting title, and convention be damned.

PQ: And probably the second most obvious would be: what does Differel mean?

SD: My father was Director and my mother the Pendragon, the Order's premier monster hunter after Vlad. By tradition, the Director and Pendragon were not allowed to fraternize. He might have to send her to her death, and she could not adequately perform her job if she had a lover to think about. However, Mother and Father were raised and trained together, so it was perhaps inevitable that they would develop feelings for one another. They were cognizant of the consequences of merging the Van Helsing and Pendragon families, but believed a brother and sister Director/Pendragon team would have better advantages over the then-current system. Had Mother lived, I would have become the Pendragon, but when she died, Father realized that I would have to be both Director and Pendragon, though the former more than the latter. He understood that to be most effective, I could never be wholly one or the other, yet had to be as much of either as possible. This implied that I could never be complete or finished, that I would have to be always changing and growing.

Being an amateur mathematician, he decided that the best way to illustrate this would be to name me Differel. You see, in calculus, an equation defines a curve on a graph. The integral of the equation is the area under the curve, whereas a differential describes how the curve changes at any point along its length. An integral implies completeness, whereas a differential implies the opposite, so he created the name Differel as a cognate to integral, to remind me to always be adaptable to any circumstances.

PQ: As long as we are on the subject, what does the rest of your name indicate?

SD: Isolde was my mother's middle name and Pendragon her maiden name. Pendragon is derived from the Welsh Pen Draig, or "Chief Dragon", and was the title of Aurelius, a king of the Britons. His son, Uthyr, took it as his family name, and it was adopted by his son, Artur, better known as Arthur, who united all the Britons under one ruler and held off the invading Saxons for his lifetime. As well, it was meant to signify that I was now the Pendragon of the Order.

Churchill was the family name of the woman Old Abraham married. She was the 12th baronetess, and she agreed to marry him so her descendents could retain the baronetcy. Father felt that, since I would be the last to bear the Van Helsing name, it was only appropriate that I should have the surname of the ancestress that sacrificed her own line so that the Van Helsings could continue.

Finally, Van Helsing is a Dutch name, but it's ultimately derived from Hällsing, originally Hælsing, anglicized as Helsing, the name given to the inhabitants of Hällsingland, anglicized as Helsingia, a province of Norrland in Sweden.

PQ: Which reminds us, you have a rather eclectic family background, do you not?

SD: [Smiles] Yes. The Pendragon bloodline is pure Celtic, mostly Welsh, but with some Scottish and Cornish blood. Indeed, I can claim Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Charles Edward Stuart, and Thomas Flamank as cousins; [grins] rebels all. The Van Helsing bloodline is a mixture of Swedish, German, and Dutch, while the Churchills and the Spencers, another ancestral family, are Anglo-Saxon, Norman, and Danish.

PQ: What is your full formal name, the one you use in legal documents?

SD: The Right Honourable Sir Differel Isolde Churchill Pendragon Van Helsing Plunkett, Viscountess Dunwich, Baroness Denver, 16th Baronetess Denver.

PQ: That's quite a mouthful.

SD: Which is why I prefer simply Sir Differel Van Helsing, and more informally Sir Differel. I only permit close companions and superiors to call me Differel. Family used to call me Differe, but most of them are gone and I don't socialize with the rest. Only Vlad and Team Girl call me Differe anymore, and even they do so very rarely.

PQ: What other titles do you go by?

SD: My staff address me as "My Lady" or "Director"; Aelfraed sometimes calls me "Madam", while Mr. Holt prefers "Mum". Vlad addresses me as "My Master"; Eile likes to call me "Diff". I will tolerate "Lady Dunwich" or "Viscountess Dunwich", but not often or for very long.

2

PQ: Considering the responsibility your family had taken upon itself, were you able to have a normal childhood?

SD: Perhaps surprisingly, yes. My father wanted it that way, at least until I turned twelve, so he asked Aunt Mandy to raise me. I had no playmates my own age; the manor was too far from the local towns and villages, and none of the servants had any children at that time. But I don't feel I was deprived, Mandy being sufficient unto herself. My earliest memories are of her taking me on picnics, exploring the grounds, and teaching me lawn games, horsemanship, and how to swim. When I turned four I began Reception at the prestigious Gresham's School in Norfolk and progressed through to the start of Year 8. There, in addition to my other studies, I took up gymnastics and learned to play the organ, and excelled at both. I didn't make friends—I couldn't invite anyone to visit the manor for security reasons—but I did get along reasonably well with the other children. So I would say my life was fairly normal, at first.

PQ: Considering her treachery, how could you have such fond memories of your aunt?

SD: She was the only mother I ever knew.

PQ: Still, isn't it strange that in all that time, no one suspected she was a traitor?

SD: Hindsight is always 20-20. You need to understand a few things. The first is that she was our only available living relative. My paternal grandfather and grandmother, Sir Miles and Victoria, had died years before, as had my maternal grandmother, Morgause, and paternal great-grandmother, Katherine. My paternal aunt, Abigail, had disappeared. My great-uncles and -aunts and cousins were estranged from us. Secondly, she was Mother's sister and had grown up in the manor, so she was trusted. Third, there is a kind of blind spot in the British aristocratic mentality that prevents us from believing that one of our own could turn traitor. Such things are simply not done, old boy. Fourth, it is in the nature of the Fomorian embryo to keep a low profile, as it were. Persons so infected make very effective moles and sleepers. Fifth, Fomorians were largely unknown back then, and one cannot anticipate a threat that one doesn't even know exists. Even so, there were indications that might have aroused the suspicion of an objective observer. Pendragons almost never have more than one child; Mother and Mandy were fraternal twins. Mandy was the first-born, but as she grew up Grandmother Morgause realized she was too emotional and erratic to be her successor, so she trained my mother instead. Mandy felt betrayed and never got over it. Fomorians are very good at exploiting weaknesses and ambitions, and we really cannot know when she was compromised.

It does seem clear, now, that she caused the deaths of my grandparents and mother, and drove away my aunt, if not actually killed her, so as to position herself to be the only family member my father could turn to. It was all part of her long-term plan, and it very nearly succeeded.

PQ: What saved you?

SD: Part of it was the nature of her plan itself. She did not intend to take over the Order, not at first. Being a Pendragon, and a woman, she would not be entitled to be Director. Instead, she tried to infect my father with an embryo to compromise him, and when that failed, she tried to compromise me. She believed she could control the Order through us. Part of it was also plain dumb luck: I was able to get away before I could be infected. Another part was that I had loyal servants who were willing to defy the Powers That Be and take matters into their own hands; Aelfraed, Mrs. Widget, and Mr. Holt re-entered the estate to look for me despite the possible danger, though they probably would have arrived too late. Still another was that I had saviors ready to defend me: Vlad, whom I had released and revived, and a stable cat I was fond of. In the end, however, it was my Pendragon inheritance that saved me: I summoned Caliburn and cut off her head.

3

PQ: You mentioned releasing Dracula earlier. How did he come to be imprisoned?

SD: Grandfather Miles did not have a particularly strong character. He was easily dominated by Grandmother Victoria and Grandmother Morgause, who was his mistress. They preyed on his insecurities and anxieties, each for her own reason, and convinced him to seal Vlad in a stone sarcophagus in the family mausoleum. Father knew about it, and before he died he told me I had a secret weapon I could use against a powerful enemy and where to find it. When Mandy tried to compromise me, I made for the mausoleum and opened the sarcophagus. I was bewildered by the sight of a wizened corpse; you see, at the time I didn't know it was Vlad, because Father hadn't been able to tell me what the weapon was or how to wield it. In a fit of depression I crawled inside to hide, but Mandy found me. Fortunately, I had a gunshot graze wound on one arm, and blood seeped into Vlad's mouth. That revived him, and he killed Mandy's accomplices, but she overpowered him. When the cat attacked her, I wished for a weapon and Caliburn appeared in my hand.

PQ: This was the stable cat you mentioned earlier? It actually attacked her?

SD: Yes, I called him Mr. Mistoffelees, after the cat in the poem by T. S. Eliot. He leapt on Mandy and attacked her face, and she shot and killed him before I could take her out. I saved him from drowning when he was a kitten. I know it sounds strange, but I truly believe he was defending my life in repayment.

4

PQ: It doesn't sound any stranger than being able to conjure a huge sword out of thin air. Is it really Excalibur?

SD: [She made the sword appear before she replied.] It's hard to say. Arthurian legend claims that Arthur acquired Excalibur from The Lady of the Lake, and that he relinquished it back to her upon his death, but my research suggests that Arthur's dispensation to wield Excalibur may have come from his wife, Guinevere. We can't be sure about Arthur's ancestry; he was king of the Celtic Britons, but he may himself have been Roman, or descended from a Roman grandfather. Guinevere, however, or more properly Gwenhwyfar in Welsh, was pure Briton going back generations. Arthur might have been permitted to carry Excalibur for his lifetime, but the women of Guinevere's lineage probably had the right to bear the sword if they so chose.

Indeed, according to family lore, when Arthur was killed at the Battle of Camlann, he had no legitimate son, but Guinevere was pregnant with a daughter. As a young woman, this daughter, whose name is unknown, was captured by Saxons and threatened with rape and murder. In her desperation, she called for Arthur's sword and it appeared in her hand, allowing her to slay her captors. From then until her death, she was able to conjure the sword at will, and since then all female Pendragons in direct matrilineal descent from this daughter have been able to call upon the sword in times of great need.

I've also discovered that the name Excalibur is itself derived from Caliburnus, which is the Latinized form of the Welsh Caledbwlch, meaning "battle breach" or "hard cleft". If you look closely, you can see that name inscribed on the ricasso. This name may have derived from the Irish Caladbolg, the sword of Fergus Mac Róich of Irish mythology, which means "hard sheath". Both weapons were described as two-handed swords of great power, which could slaughter entire hosts and slice the tops off of mountains. There is also the myth of the sword Claideb, which was one of the four treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann. It was described as a weapon no one could escape and no one could resist, and its name became the Old Irish word for sword. Medb of Connacht was said to be half Danann, and she had gifted Caladbolg to Fergus when he defected to her service, so perhaps Caladbolg and Claideb were the same weapon. Furthermore, I have reason to believe that Guinevere's foremother may have even been Finnabair, the daughter of Medb by Ailill, king of Connacht. And, while this may be a coincidence, the design of Caliburn resembles the Highland two-handed claymore, which in Scots Gaelic is claidheamh.

Based on this, I believe that Medb had the ability to conjure Claideb whenever she desired, that Finnabair inherited that ability, and that she passed it down through her daughters' daughters to Guinevere, and this ability passed to the Pendragons and down the centuries to me. I cannot prove it, but it seems reasonable.

Regardless, the Pendragons called their weapon Caliburn for convenience.

5

PQ: We know that in addition to being a greatsword fighter, you are also a pistol marksman and an expert duelist, knife fighter, and martial artist. How did you become proficient in so many different techniques?

SD: Training, naturally; that, and lots of practice. Father intended to begin preparing me when I turned twelve to eventually assume control of the Order, and before he died he asked Mandy to take over, but she had other plans. In the aftermath, there was the question of whether I should be allowed to become Director, but once that was finally settled, Sir Edward Penbryn, who oversaw the operations of the Order for [Her Majesty's Most Honourable] Privy Council, appointed a regency council of advisors to help me. He also asked Aelfraed and Mr. Holt to see to my training. They in turn created an ad hoc guardian committee with Vlad and Mrs. Widget to facilitate this. Mr. Holt taught me how to shoot, with Vlad's help, as well as fencing, knife fighting, and martial arts. When not being trained I practiced, diligently, and still do, though now I find training others a good way to stay in practice on a regular basis.

PQ: So, what sort of martial arts do you know?

SD: I have a black belt in Spirit Combat Jujitsu, with cross-training in Neo-Bartitsu, which is a modernized form of the late-Victorian eclectic martial art, and I have been trained in militarized Defendu, with emphasis on subduing or killing an enemy by any means necessary. These are the same techniques taught to the Royal Marines and SAS [Special Air Service] commandoes. I am also Renshi roku-dan and fifth-level Nihon Kata in Kendo, and trained in the Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu two-sword technique, Okuden grade, in Kenjutsu. I am proficient in the Jacobean, Italian, and Mysterious Circle styles of rapier dueling, as well as the Kunst des Fechtens style of longsword dueling and Scottish broadsword dueling. A family friend taught me the Pendragon style of great sword fighting, and I received further training from modern re-enactors.

PQ: And what are your favorite weapons?

SD: Well, aside from Caliburn, and the 1897 Pattern Infantry Officers' sword I wear with my military uniform, I own an 18th century basket-hilt broadsword that I keep in mint condition, a reconstructed 17th century Highland claymore two-handed sword (a present to me by Her Majesty when I became Director), a reproduction of an English dueling rapier, a modern reenactment longsword, and a custom greatsword I use for practice. I also specialize in the fencing sabre. I carry a Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife on my person at all times, or have one close by. I have been trained to use assault rifles and shotguns, but I prefer an L117A2 9mm semi-automatic pistol with a 13-round clip for concealed carry, or an L106A1 9mm pistol with 15, 30, or 90-round magazines for maximum firepower. I also have an affection for the Beretta Model 93R 9mm machine pistol with 30, 90, or 120-round magazines and the Parker Hale PDW 9mm submachine gun with 90, 120, or 180 round magazines.

PQ: Have you had any other kinds of training you believe were important?

SD: Well, I've completed the All Arms Commando Course, and taken the Royal Marines Commando Course and the hill and jungle phases of the SAS selection tests, including the Fan dance and the Long Drag. Those were particularly tough.

PQ: Seriously? We've never heard of a soldier doing that!

SD: Yes, but not all at once, and not all the way. I can't afford to take the time off needed to complete a full course, so I take certain parts as and when I can arrange the time. I also only need to take those parts that deal with combat activity. Just recently I completed the SAS combat survival exercises, including escape and evasion. I hope to take the resistance to interrogation test some time in the near future.

6

PQ: You were not just trained in weapons and combat, though, correct?

SD: Naturally; what would make you believe otherwise?

PQ: You've been described as having a high intelligence and a keen mind, and an innate tactical and strategic sense.

SD: Hmph. That doesn't mean I didn't have to be taught how to perform my duties. Most of the time running the Order involves administrative work such as filling out paperwork, along with performing logistical, tactical, and strategic analyses. In fact, I would say that 75% of my effort is spent on paperwork, with 15% on diplomatic negotiations; only 10% is actual monster hunting.

Even so, Aelfraed tried to keep me in school. My ancestors had all completed school before they took over the Order; Father had attended Eton. Aelfraed had hoped I could perhaps attend college. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. Vlad's inevitable appearance whenever I felt intimidated or threatened made it impossible for the school to function, and I was asked to leave after the first half of the Eighth Year. That required some special accommodation. My guardians regimented my day: in the morning, I was tutored; in the early afternoon, I trained in combat techniques; and in the late afternoon, I was trained in bureaucratic procedures. I fitted in exercise and my official duties as best as I could, though I delegated a fair amount of authority to the Order staff and deferred decisions to my advisory council most of the time. However, over the following nine years my schooling and training gradually lightened and I acquired the time to devote myself more fully to my duties.

7

PQ: Was it as lonely as it sounds?

SD: Hmph. Serves me right for being so candid. Up to a point, yes. As I explained earlier, I had not made friends in school, and later I had no opportunities to do so had I wanted to. Looking back on it now, I can see how having even just one could have been a powerful benefit. Barring school, however, there were only two other sources, the house staff and the aristocracy. Unfortunately, there was no one among the former I could feel close to. Aside from the social barrier that kept aristocrats and servants from fraternizing, there was no one close to my age I could relate to. And security concerns prevented me from being able to go out to socialize, except for aristocratic functions, which I loathed.

My people did make valiant attempts to keep me entertained. For example, Aelfraed taught me billiards, Mrs. Widget whist, Vlad chess, and Mr. Holt cricket. But I still felt lonely and isolated, which grew worse with the onset of puberty. Aelfraed was like a second father to me, Mr. Holt a brother, Vlad a very strange uncle, and Mrs. Widget advised me on personal and [clears her throat] "womanly" matters. They were the closest people I had to friends and, at various times, beaus, but they couldn't indulge me in the ways that would do the most good. Even so, they did teach me to be strong and independent, and to look to myself for companionship. It was at that time that I developed an interest in illustration and fantasy novels, and I turned a childish infatuation with acting into a yearning for dramatic recitation.

Oddly enough, I did have one true confidant: Lady Margaret Rose Chesham. She wasn't a friend, exactly; I belive the term is "frenemy". But we socialized together, and we told each other secrets and fears we couldn't, or wouldn't, tell anyone else.

PQ: Seriously? Beaus?

SD: Don't go there.

8

PQ: Our apologies. Was it difficult fitting in as Director?

SD: That question is rather personal. But I have made some personal admissions already. [Sighs] Well, in for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose. It was rather difficult, yes, but most of the problems were of my own making. Being inexperienced, I made a number of mistakes, but the main problem was my attitude. I started out as timid and uncertain, then progressed to willful and defiant; in colloquial terms, I was a spoiled brat. My guardian committee tried a number of different methods to discipline me, even going so far as to mock-terrorize me, but in the end they were forced to resort to corporal punishment, administered by Mr. Holt, though as I grew older they made me wash dishes in the scullery. If you ever want learn just how big the staff is in this place, trying washing all the dishes and cookware for just a single day.

In any event, that turned me around and forced me to grow up and control my emotions. It took a while to learn, especially with my temper, but when I did I went too far in the opposite direction and became too controlled and reserved, almost icy, and I was still pretty overconfident and arrogant. Part of the problem, though, was that Vlad encouraged this. He was my closest, most trusted adviser, but his advice was not always good or practical, and he was a bad role model. Nonetheless, my ability and competence steadily improved, and when I turned twenty-one, I assumed full control of the Directorship with few objections. I did raise eyebrows when I dismissed my advisers or demoted them to departmental positions, but few people actually believed I wasn't ready, or capable. Before a year had passed, however, they were proven right.

9

PQ: But could anyone have been truly ready for Grendel's invasion?

SD: In retrospect, perhaps not. The Fomorians had spent years infiltrating all levels of the government and armed forces; the Caerleon Order was practically the only agency not compromised in some fashion, most likely because Mandy was to have been their agent. Even so, I nearly destroyed the Order due to my incompetence.

PQ: According to government records, you acted quickly and decisively, and accurately anticipated many of the moves the Fomorians made—

SD: Perhaps, but I also made a number of critical mistakes and blunders that crippled the Order's ability to handle the invasion. My poor decisions and rash responses led to the deaths of dozens of Caerleon operatives, and on top of everything, I allowed myself to be captured, which nearly caused the Order's collapse, being as I had made no provision for its continued operation in my absence.

PQ: Granted, but even so, you not only managed to escape, you rallied what was left of the Order and the British Army to make a counterattack that swept the Fomorians from the island. And Dracula singlehandedly destroyed Grendel.

SD: At the cost of his own life, thereby depriving Britain of its most powerful weapon.

PQ: Nonetheless, you were praised and honoured with numerous awards, and declared the Hero of Britain.

SD: I wasn't and I'm still not worthy of such accolades. I refuse to recognize them, except when circumstances give me no choice.

PQ: Your modesty on this issue is infamous, but the Crown doesn't hand out undeserved honours. Why won't you acknowledge them?

SD: I really do not care to discuss it, but for the benefit of your readers who might feel as you do, let me just say this: I am to blame for the debacle. I can never forgive myself for all the bloodshed and destruction I caused, and I should not have been rewarded for it. But Britain needed a hero, to help her recover her pride and dignity, and I was shanghaied. Once again I was a victim of politics, pure and simple. If there was a benefit, it was that it forced me to take my responsibilities seriously and rationally. I owe God, the Sovereign, and the People a debt for nearly losing both Britain and the Order, and that is a debt I have dedicated my life to repaying.

PQ: It would seem you have succeeded.

SD: I have rebuilt the Order to better than it was before the invasion, but that's simply logistics. The real question is, have I learned my lessons? Am I now good enough to be Director?

PQ: How can you doubt it? By all accounts, you've become a fine director and a gifted leader, with a fair amount of hard-won wisdom supporting you and the uncompromising loyalty and respect of your people.

SD: Hmph. It remains to be seen if I possess the strength and will to properly fulfill my duties. I'm tired, and lately I find myself wondering if I can, or should, retire.

PQ: Why continue then?

SD: I still have that debt to pay, and I owe it to Father. [Smiles] Besides, someone has to maintain control of Vlad.

10

PQ: Perhaps we should move on to something more pleasant. The years after the invasion were your best, were they not?

SD: [Laughs] I certainly hope not, I expect to have many years left to live! But you're half right: there were good times, but also bad.

PQ: Tell us about them.

SD: There isn't much to say, really; those years were relatively quiet ones, though active. In addition to my administrative duties, I participated in numerous missions in my capacity as Pendragon: negotiations, reconnaissance operations, and military ventures against incursions. They're all classified, so I can't give you any details for publication. However, I can say no cataclysmic or long-term threats materialized, and most missions took a few days, a week at most, to resolve, and occurred at long intervals. [Smiles] I actually found most of that time to be rather boring.

PQ: Is that when you acquired Her Majesty's Airship Britannic?

SD: Yes. The Defence Council had commissioned its construction to act as a command and control platform for joint operations, but the end of the Cold War had eliminated the necessity for such a craft, and it proved to be unsuitable for most forms of low-intensity warfare. It had been decommissioned for eventual scraping, so I requested it to act as a mobile headquarters, volunteering to pay for its maintenance. The Council agreed, and I have not been disappointed. In fact, it has proven to be such an asset in command and control of combat operations, reconnaissance, and power-projection that the Defence Council has authorized the construction of a second vehicle, to be named Victoric.

11

PQ: What were the best and worst of that time?

SD: I actually had three "bests". The first was when Vlad returned after a three year absence. The second was my marriage to Victor Edward Plunkett, the Viscount of Dunwich in the County of Suffolk.

PQ: That must have been a shock to a great many people.

SD: To me as well. Thanks to the resilient self-reliance Vlad and the others had instilled in me, I had no interest in casual affairs and no desire for romance, though I had no outlet for dating even if I did. I had pretty much resolved that I would never marry, but Victor destroyed my complacency and threw my emotional equilibrium all out of balance. By the time I recovered, I realized I had fallen deeply in love and I gladly surrendered my heart to him.

PQ: You must still love him very much.

SD: [Smiles] More than anything except God, Britain, and Henry.

PQ: That's your son?

SD: Yes, The Rt. Hon. Henry Abraham Vlad Helsing-Plunkett, 27th Viscount Dunwich; he was my third "best" and is the joy of my life.

PQ: Why "Helsing-Plunkett"?

SD: It was Victor's idea. He wanted to make sure that despite the marriage everyone understood the Order had not been taken over by another family, that the Van Helsing line was still in control. He also wanted it made clear that Vlad had not switched loyalty to another family, that he was still bound to the Van Helsing bloodline. I wasn't sure either would really be a problem, but he insisted, and he could be very persuasive.

PQ: And the worst?

SD: [Frowns] I would think that would be obvious. After only three years of marriage, Victor was killed by an Archangel of the Vatican's Holy Order of St. Antony Demons-Bane. It was ordered by the then-director Monsignor Canarde, without the knowledge of his superiors. He had become convinced that I and my family had been compromised and that we would use the Order to subjugate Britain. I ordered Vlad to get Henry to safety, but Victor was dead before he could return.

PQ: That must have been traumatic.

SD: I went insane. First, I used Caliburn to slaughter the Archangel. I mean that literally; I cut him to pieces like a hog for market. Then I retaliated against the Antonians. Canarde pushed back and I responded. Our vendetta escalated until open war threatened between our orders. Only a command from Her Majesty convinced me to back off, and still I nearly refused—

[Editor's Note: Sir Differel broke off at that point and left the room without a word. Dracula ordered us to stay where we were, and we waited while Aelfraed served us tea and sandwiches. After a half hour, she returned with her friends, Team Girl. She apologized for her abrupt exit, claiming an emergency, and asked to continue, but Eile and Sonne stayed with her.]

SD: I took a leave of absence to allow cooler heads to settle the dispute, but in my grief I convinced myself I could no longer take care of Henry properly. I gave him to Victor's family to be raised, on condition that I didn't try to see him. In exchange, I received a yearly package of photos and videos at Christmas.

PQ: But you have been reunited with him recently, true?

SD: Yes, thanks to Team Girl. [She smiled at Eile and Sonne, who smiled back.]

PQ: Have you considered remarrying?

SD: No, I haven't. I love Victor with a passion such as I have never felt for anyone or anything else. I doubt I could ever love any man the same way again. I don't believe I would ever want to.

PQ: What about simple companionship? Don't you ever feel lonely?

SD: Pray, tell me how I can feel lonely with these three always under foot? [She indicates Dracula and Team Girl.]

12

PQ: Let's move on to a new subject. You've been injured during your service, is that correct?

SD: That's part of the job.

PQ: Nonetheless, we understand that some of the wounds are quite extensive.

SD: [Grins] You want to see my battle scars, is that it?

PQ: Not particularly, but isn't it unusual for the director of a government agency to put herself in danger as you have?

SD: Hmph. It never ceases to amaze me how people who have no concept of the dangers Britain faces nonetheless insist upon criticizing the actions of those who do. Still...I suppose I may take more risks than is warranted. Part of it has to do with the fact that as a child I didn't like the security restrictions imposed upon me for my safety, so once I became Director, I probably overcompensated. Then too I have always been a swashbuckler at heart; part of my Pendragon legacy. Between the ages of 18 and 21 I went monster hunting with Vlad as often as I could, and I seriously considered resigning as Director and playing the Pendragon fulltime.

However, there have been times and there continue to be circumstances in which my presence as Director in the field is not only necessary but mandatory. I cannot go into any classified details, but the basics are that it is easier and faster for me to make decisions if I am directly witnessing events as they unfold, rather than receiving reports here at the manor, no matter how detailed or timely.

PQ: It has paid off, though. We understand this is a sore subject, but your direct actions have netted you numerous awards, yes? Besides the Life Peerage, George Cross, Order of the Garter, and the Grendel Invasion Medal.

SD: Oh, bother. Yes, they have, though that isn't why I did what I did. [Sighs] But I suppose you'll want a list. Very well, for my actions during the Grendel Invasion I was also made a member of the House of Lords, where I advise Parliament on paranormal affairs. On top of that I received the Order of Canada, Officer Grade; the Order of Australia, Dame Grade; and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. I should mention, however, that one award I accepted without reservation was the creation of a personal coat of arms, separate from that which I inherited from Father.

In any event, I have also received the NATO Meritorious Service Medal and the Order of Leopold, Grand Officer Grade, from the King of Belgium, the Israeli Chief of Staff Medal of Appreciation, the American Distinguished Service Medal, the Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya, the Ashoka Chakra Award of India, and the Order of National Hero of Jamaica. Just this year I have been recommended for the Vatican's Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Sylvester Pope and Martyr, Dame Commander with Star Grade, and I've been told that Her Majesty will appoint me to the Privy Council to replace Sir Edward Penbryn.

However, I should point out that while I have rejected the honours awarded as a result of the Grendel Invasion, I do not object to the others, since they were awarded for later actions that I handled in a more competent manner.

PQ: Can you give us any details on how you came to be awarded these other decorations?

SD: No, I'm sorry, they're classified.

13

PQ: If we could go back to an earlier discussion, you mentioned that you were asked to leave your school.

SD: [Smiles] A kindly euphemism for being excluded.

PQ: Did that end your education?

SD: By no means! I already mentioned that I was tutored each day. My guardian committee hired a retired paraplegic college professor to be a live-in instructor, Dr. Padraic Trevelyan.

PQ: Just how far were you able to go?

SD: I completed the Eighth Year, then went through Third, Fourth, and Fifth Form. I passed my General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams at the end of Fifth Form, receiving at least an 'A' level grade in all subjects except three. By then I was old enough I could control my emotions and I returned to Gresham's for Sixth Form, studying nine subjects and passing my Advanced Level General Certificate of Education exams with five 'A's. I stayed on to take their International Baccalaureate Diploma program, which I received with honours. I enrolled in Somerville College at Oxford studying Classical Archaeology and Ancient History, but after a year and a half I dropped out due to the increasing pressures of being Director.

At Victor's urging, after Henry was born I enrolled at the College of West Anglia in their Bachelor of Arts Honours degree program studying History and English Literature, but I dropped out the following year after his death.

PQ: Would you consider going back to try to finish getting a higher degree?

SD: I might, though with the Internet now, I could get a degree online.

PQ: We understand you excel at languages?

SD: I know a few. It helps when trying to negotiate with national or regional leaders, not the least of which is not needing interpreters.

PQ: What are some you know?

SD: I'm proficient in ten languages, eight of which are past or current lingua francas and five of which are official languages of the United Nations. These include French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Latin, and Japanese. I also speak fluent Welsh and Medieval Romanian. That last is Vlad's native tongue. I have a tourist's understanding of German, Dutch, Hindi, and Swahili, the last two also being lingua francas, and I am learning Swedish and Portuguese. Oh, and for a lark, Sunny is teaching me tlhIngan Hol. That's Klingon.

SONNE HIVER: Qapla'!

EILE CHICA: Put a sock in it, ya ditz!

14

PQ: Um, switching gears here, can you tell us something of your politics?

SD: Let's see. To begin with, I'm a British aristocrat through and through. I believe in class distinctions, privileges, and responsibilities, but I defend democracy as ardently as I do the British social order. I am a member of the Conservative Party and a staunch supporter of conservative economic, foreign, and defense policies, as well as certain social policies regarding crime, welfare, and morality. I also tend towards One Nation Conservatism, but I support Scottish and Welsh independence, multiculturalism, and closer ties with the European Union. I am generally opposed to Thatcherite economic policies, and while I sympathize with and in principle support the Cornerstone Group's philosophy of the traditional values of faith, patriotism, and the family, I am opposed to nearly all their specific policies. In the House of Lords, however, I am a crossbencher, being as my position as Director of the Caerleon Order requires I be above partisanship.

PQ: What of your religious beliefs?

SD: That one's easy: I'm Anglican and a member of the Church of England. As such, I am an avowed and unapologetic Christian theist. Though I am no proselytizer. I believe each person's faith and relationship to God is his affair.

PQ: And your philosophy?

SD: Hmph. I haven't given that much thought. I suppose I am probably closest to the Stoics, in that I strive after virtue, self-control, and clear and unbiased thinking. However, I also admire the Epicurean view, in that I reject superstition and I strive for modesty, temperance, tranquility, and to gain knowledge. However, I would make a poor ascetic or cynic, being as I cannot abstain from "worldly pleasures" or reject desires for wealth and power, even though I try to obtain spiritual fulfillment and peace of mind. To function effectively as Director, I need creature comforts and a staff to provide them for me. Ethically I suppose I am closest to a deontologist, in that I believe right and wrong are determined by certain rules, such that an act is wrong if it violates one of those rules even if it results in good. When it comes to free will, I am more of a libertarian than a determinist, but I do believe certain actions lead to predetermined ends. Though I am a theist, I am also a humanist, a rationalist, and a materialist. I don't deny the spiritual, but I believe it is limited to miracles, the soul, and the Holy Spirit; I don't believe in devils and angels warring over Humanity except in our own hearts. I am also partial to the theses of Thomas Aquinas. I like his ideas that the world is knowable as it is, that truth is true regardless of the source, that good is the striving after of effective function, and that the existence of God can be demonstrated through reason.

In a more prosaic sense, I believe in rewarding talent and ability with promotion and advancement regardless of its current level. I suppose that if I have one serious fault, I'm intolerant of failure, especially my own, but I also understand that honest mistakes can lead to greater competence.

15

PQ: Is it true you hate dresses?

SD: With a passion.

PQ: Why is that?

SD: The standard party dress reveals too much of me for my comfort, especially those with no sleeves, shoulders, or back, and with necklines that plunge halfway down one's cleavage. I also consider those with skirt slits running up the arse to be patently ridiculous. Mostly, however, they are too restrictive and confining, especially if I have to fight.

PQ: And yet you wear skirts on occasion.

SD: A skirt is more sensible. For one thing, it can be made free-flowing so that it doesn't interfere with movement. For another, I can wear leggings underneath, so that if I am required to fight, I can remove the skirt without concern. With a dress, I am usually unable to wear anything beneath it except stockings and a pair of knickers. That makes it rather awkward to take off if I need to.

PQ: We see your point. Why don't you wear skirts more often?

SD: I used to wear them all the time, before I gave birth. Afterwards, I wore pants a few times because they were quick and convenient and felt more comfortable, and Victor said I looked sexy, so I started wearing them all the time. Can't say I see it myself, but it made him happy.

PQ: Just out of curiosity, why do you wear a cravat?

SD: [Laughs] You mean as opposed to a tie or an ascot? I suppose it's a concession to my feminine side. The color varies from day to day and tends to match my mood.

PQ: And yet, you don't wear any makeup.

SD: There's feminine, and then there's girly. I'm not terribly concerned about my appearance, may Team Girl have mercy on my soul, but I will wear lipstick and even perfume when the fancy strikes me. About the only aspect of my looks that I don't mess with is my hair. I always wear it loose, even under formal conditions; it just doesn't have enough body and it's too stringy to try to wear up in some fashion. The only problem being, it often falls in my face.

16

PQ: Is it true that you're celibate and a teetotaler?

SD: Hmph. You're really pushing the intimacy boundaries with that one. Watch it. The former is true; the only man I've ever had sex with was Victor when he was alive. The latter is exaggerated. In practice I rarely drink on my own, but I am a social drinker when the circumstances require it. However, I do love tea, I drink coffee or hot chocolate when it's cold, and I'm partial to Lilt, specifically pineapple and grapefruit flavored Lilt Zero.

PQ: That reminds us, you have a reputation for being a gourmand, yet your favorite dish is...

SD: Fish and chips, yes. I'm also partial to haggis, steak and kidney pie, welsh rarebit, shepherd's pie, bangers and mash, pasties; plus, Team Girl has introduced me to bacon cheeseburgers and lasagna. Oh, yes, and I am extremely partial to cherry amaretto ice cream. However, Aelfraed is Le Cordon Bleu trained and Madam Trumbo is a disciple of Gaston LeNĂ´tre, so I have my fill of gourmet food. My favorite snacks are caviar, truffles, and pâté de foie gras, and I love crêpes.

PQ: And yet you manage to maintain your girly figure.

SD: [Chuckles] Oh, you really are asking for it. Between age and motherhood, I need to maintain a strict exercise routine if I wish to remain fit and firm. Every day I swim, or perform gymnastics, or fence, or engage in a martial arts workout or sword dueling or knife fighting; in fact, I find any of those a good way to blow off steam. About the only overt sign that I'm deteriorating is my myopia and astigmatism are getting worse and I am becoming presbyopic.

PQ: You also smoke.

SD: Davidoff cigarillos, four to six a day. And I swear like a sailor when I lose my temper, voice offensive street sang, use 'bloody' the way most people use the 'F' word, and I haven't celebrated a birthday since Father died. Thus ends the litany of my vices.

17

PQ: Do you have any fun at all? Or is that a moot subject?

SD: By no means. Christmas is my favorite holiday. My weekly departmental meetings usually center on a game of whist. Aelfraed and I play at least one game of pool every couple of evenings or so. Other nights I enjoy playing chess with Vlad, and I often beat him. Eile and Sunny have taught me the joys of video games, and Henry and I play as often as we can, when we're not watching a movie together. When I feel especially stressed, I go horseback riding for a few hours. Four times a year I have tea with Her Majesty as I report on paranormal activity in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Every year the Order has a cricket tournament; I'm the bowler for Drac's Bats. I still read fantasy fiction on occasion.

[Grins] And while I'd be loathed to admit it, I really enjoy the time I spend with Team Girl, whether on duty or not. Around them I can relax and let myself go, which I can't do with anyone else except Henry. [She clasps hand with them for a moment.]

But my favorite activities are the most personal. I have a strong interest in antiquarianism, and I spend a few days each month doing research in old libraries, or visiting ruins or abandoned cemeteries. As part of that, I am teaching myself Old English, Old French, and Old Norse. Each evening, before I go to bed, I work on my illustrations, and on the weekends I reserve time to practice the dramatic recitations I know by heart, and learn new ones. And there's my music. I don't have an organ in the manor, so perhaps two or three times a month I go to St. Mary, the parish church in Denver, and practice on theirs. I'm not sure Father Baerinville appreciates me playing "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" though.

But my primary love is the cello. I remember when I was nine, Father took me to a concert and I was inspired by a virtuoso cellist. I begged Mandy to let me learn, and she relented only when I gave my word I wouldn't get bored with it and quit after a few weeks. Despite the difficult lessons and long hours of practice, I enjoyed it and became good enough that I considered making a career as a professional musician. Even now, playing the cello relaxes me and can calm my temper.

PQ: At one point, didn't you want to compete in the Olympics?

SD: In the 1996 Summer Games, yes. That was the first year the Women's Individual Sabre event would be held, but I was denied permission for security reasons. I was only 20 at the time, and still under the control of my Regency Committee. When the 2000 Summer Games came around, I was too busy rebuilding the Order, and during the lead-up to 2004 I was married and pregnant. After that, I was pretty much too old.

But I still competed in other games. For four years I entered the Norfolk Fencing Tournament and won one Bronze, one Silver, and two Gold Medals. Meanwhile I also competed in the SAS Combat Trials and won Champion Standing for knife fighting two years in a row. Then I competed in the East Anglia Fencing Tournament for four years, earning one Silver and three Gold Medals. During that time I also won Second Place at the 12th Global Kendo Championship.

At the 2006 Gwynedd Tourney at Arms I was declared Grand Champion for winning three out of five dueling contests: fencing sabre, rapier, and longsword. In 2008 at the First International Dueling Championship I won 2nd Prize for rapier and 1st Prize for longsword and greatsword. In 2009 I received the Platinum Cross for fencing at the Queen's Charity Gala Tournament, and then went on to win Champion Standing at the Gwynedd Tourney at Arms for rapier and longsword. Finally, in 2010 at the Second International Dueling Championship, I won 2nd Prize for longsword, and 1st Prize for rapier and greatsword. More recently I've earned 3rd and 2nd Prize for broadsword fencing at the Cowal Highland Gathering. I've also been awarded the Queen's Medal for Champion Pistol Shots for fourteen of the past twenty-one years.

I haven't competed since, however; both too old and too busy.

PQ: You're also a member of a number of associations, correct?

SD: Yes, but I'm currently active in only three. I'm Grand Master of the Order of the Dragon, I'm a Seventh-degree Mason in The Order of Women Freemasons, Norfolk Lodge, and I'm a member of the University Women's Club. Even these last two, however, I'm not as active as I would like to be.

PQ: And we've been told you travel to another universe every night in your dreams? A place called the Dreamlands?

SD: [Frowns] That's classified, and I have no comment.

PQ: That you've been declared the heir presumptive of one of its kingdoms?

SD: Classified; no comment.

PQ: And that Lord Dunwich is still alive there and you remarried him?

SD: Classified. No comment. Move on!

18

PQ: Very well. We all know the reputation of Sir Abraham as Britain's Royal Monster Hunter, but is it true that the Pendragons were protecting the islands long before him?

SD: Correct, and they've been doing it for 1500 years. It started with Arthur's granddaughter, whose name is also unknown. Her mother taught her how to summon Caliburn and how to fight with it, but when she was killed by a barrow wight, the granddaughter killed it in revenge. She then began a vendetta against all paranormal creatures that she passed on to her daughter, and she to her daughter, and so forth. However, it wasn't until Gwyar and her daughter Eleirch, the first of the family whose names we know, that they offered their services to the Welsh Crown. Beginning with them, the Pendragons dedicated themselves to protecting Wales, then England, and finally Britain, sometimes in the open with the Sovereign's blessing, but more often in secret. What I find amazing is that they managed to descend unbroken from mother to daughter down to modern times. They never married, but they all survived long enough to bear, raise, and train a child, and they always had daughters. That tradition ended with Mother and myself; she died before she could train me, and I had a son. Whether the Pendragon line can continue on through him or will become extinct depends upon whether he marries and has children, if any are girls, and if any of them can summon Caliburn.

PQ: Also, Sir Abraham wasn't the first of his family to make a career of monster hunting, was he?

SD: No, but compared to the Pendragons, the Van Helsings were relative newcomers to monster-hunting, having been at it for only 300 years. Old Abraham didn't even want to be a monster hunter. While trained by his family, he decided to be a physician, scholar, and philosopher. But he continued his occult studies, and occasionally consulted on his family's activities.

PQ: How did he and the then-Pendragon first meet?

SD: The Pendragons normally limited their activities to the British Isles, but sometimes they traveled to the Continent, usually in pursuit of a fleeing creature or to head off a possible infiltration, and they often joined forces with the Van Helsings; in fact, they had been acquaintances of the Van Helsings for a number of decades. Dindrane Amanda Pendragon, my maternal great-great-grandmother, came to him to help her find a monster she was tracking, and they became friends. From what he wrote in his journals years later, I suspect Old Abraham was infatuated with her.

PQ: Tell us about how he caught and enslaved Dracula.

SD: Most of the story you already know. Bram Stoker's novel is very accurate; it just leaves out certain details and changes the ending. The most important omission is that when Abraham arrived in Britain and realized Lucy Westenra was the victim of a Vampire, he secretly alerted Dindrane and enlisted her aid. She performed his legwork, tracking down Vlad behind the scenes, both in Britain and on the Continent, revealing herself only to protect Abraham against him while traversing the Borgo Pass, and help Abraham defend Mina Harker from his Transylvanian brides. She also stood ready to destroy him in case Abraham and his team were unable to accomplish it.

Of course, the change in the ending is that though Abraham defeated Vlad, he didn't destroy him, but rather forced him to serve the Van Helsing family until the bloodline went extinct, a Van Helsing released him, or he was finally destroyed. Though Dindrane disagreed with his decision to spare Vlad, nonetheless she decided not to second guess him. However, she also decided to stay close, in case Vlad proved treacherous.

PQ: And how did the Caerleon Order come about?

SD: As a reward for saving Great Britain from Dracula, Queen Victoria made Van Helsing a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, and appointed him the royal monster hunter. To better accomplish his mission, he formed the Caerleon Order of the Companions of St. George, and Dindrane helped him. She suggested its name, and she became its premier monster killer after Vlad, becoming known as The Pendragon. Her descendents have continued to serve as Pendragon right down to more recent times.

To ensure that the Van Helsing bloodline would continue, and thereby continue to control Vlad, Queen Victoria arranged for Abraham to marry Dame Beatrice Louise Churchill, the 12th Baronetess of Denver and my paternal great-great-grandmother. He converted the Churchill ancestral manor into the headquarters for the Order, but placed Beatrice in charge of the renovations, and thereby she put her own spin on the results. They ultimately had five children together; one, Colin, died before he was a year old, but the rest—George, Lucille, Reginald, and Angela—not only survived into adulthood, but they also set most of the traditions and policies of the Order. George inherited Beatrice's title, becoming the 13th Baronet of Denver, and took over as Director when Abraham retired. Reginald became the first Manager and Angela the first Chief Analyst, while Lucille became a field agent and monster hunter; she was probably the closest to Vlad at that time. In any event, since then it has been traditional for the baronet to serve as Director and concentrate on strategy, while allowing a younger brother or sister to serve as Manager to handle the day-to-day affairs. Father had to rely on Aunt Mandy, but since she was a sister-in-law and grew up with him, that was close enough. I had no one, though Aelfraed in his capacity as Chief of Staff proved to be of enormous help, until I hired Ms. King. She is the first non-family person to run the Order, but she won't be the last since Henry is an only child.

19

PQ: According to Standard & Poor's, you are currently worth £450 million. Where does an aristocrat get that kind of money nowadays?

SD: I should make a small correction first. My personal worth is only about £175 million. The rest belongs to the Order to help finance it. We couldn't do nearly as much as we're able to if we had to rely solely on government funding, especially in this economy.

When my parents died, I inherited their personal fortunes, at the time valued at around £62 million, but I also acquired control over a roughly £200 million portfolio that belonged to the Order. I was expected to administer it, but I couldn't use it for any personal purposes. The origins of both, or at least the Order portfolio and Father's fortune, lay in the Churchills and the Spencers being landed aristocracy; the Van Helsings, if they had any land, lost or sold it all long ago. Both families acquired their lands as fiefs from the King; both earned their wealth first through direct farming using serfs, then by renting land to tenant farmers. Both made the same two mistakes: they switched over to sheep farming, and when cheap Australian wool caused the domestic wool market to crash they refused to sell their land and invest. The result was that Beatrice was the epitome of many aristocrats in her time; land-rich but money-poor. She wasn't as bad off as most of her colleagues, because an ancestor had made a fortune in the West Indies, which was able to support the family for several generations, but his money wasn't invested either, just spent. By Beatrice's time it was running out.

Abraham wanted to run the Order using personal money rather than government funding, but the only money he had access to was his wife's. Beatrice gave him permission, but only if he would keep the family finances separate from those of the Order. He sold off 95% of the land his wife owned, keeping only a dozen parcels in and around Denver and Downham Market against future need. He divided the money one-third for family, two-thirds for the Order, and invested in new industries, overseas ventures, and insurance underwriting. My ancestors have constantly reworked these investments to try to maintain a constant income and avoid downturns in the market; for example, Angela's analyses allowed George to dump most of the stock before the 1929 crash and the Great Depression, thereby preserving 75% of the portfolio's worth.

The Pendragons started out dirt poor, but they were often rewarded with jewelry or objects d'art for their services, and in a few rare cases landed estates. Most of these were sold to provide the family income, but some were stored away against future need. By the time of Dindrane's grandmother Parcenet, the family fortune was considerable but with very low liquidity, so she sold it all off and invested in trade and colonial ventures, insurance underwriting, and new industries. By the time Dindrane inherited this portfolio, it had tripled in value. Abraham helped her to increase the investments, and this cooperation continued with each successive generation. When my Mother died, she left the Pendragon inheritance to me but administered by Father. However, I acquired it when he died along with the Van Helsing fortune. I also acquired Aunt Mandy's wealth by probate after I killed her, and Victor's will gave me control over his share of the Plunkett fortune in trust for Henry.

Today, I maintain this combined fortune through stocks, bonds, money markets, commodities, gold, whatever seems safest and yet yields consistent dividends. With occasional hiccups, I have been able to increase the value of both my personal and the Order portfolios without taking substantial risks.

PQ: So now you're land-poor but money-rich?

SD: [Smiles] I still own a considerable amount of property, though most are structures: a half dozen parcels outside of Denver; this manor and estate; townhomes in London, Downham Market, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Bath, Torquey, and New York; the castles of Bethmoira, Connarath, Camdel, and Bran; the Tyrone Mansion in Ulster; and a personal retreat in the Highlands. However, the London townhome, Bethmoira, Connarath, and Tyrone Mansion were "sold" to the Order to act as regional stations, though I still retain residency rights, so while I still control them, I cannot liquidate them without the approval of the Privy Council.

I also own a few odds and ends, stocks or other investments that are currently worthless but which I retain for sentimental or historical value; I can't sell them anyway, just destroy them. For example, I own several hundred shares in the defunct Venneford Ranch and the played-out Matchless Mine in Colorado; insurance underwriting certificates for RMS Titanic and HMHS Britannic; several thousand pounds worth of World War I bonds—I guess no one thought to cash them in; and a dozen copies each of the hardcover collected editions of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars and Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars II.

PQ: Comic books?

SD: Please, graphic novels, old boy. [Clears throat] Yes, Father loved comics. Apparently he believed they would be worth something someday. I think he had visions of them being sold for £100,000 each.

PQ: Do you collect anything for investment?

SD: Nothing specific, just whatever strikes my fancy. I own a number of paintings and art prints by young contemporary British artists; signed First Editions of The Hobbit, Farmer Giles of Ham, The Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, and Smith of Wootton Major, given to me as gifts; a partial set of Wedgewood Queen's Ware; and a cricket ball signed by the Norfolk County Cricket Club team that won the 2002 Minor Counties Championship. Mostly, I collect for aesthetic or academic reasons, not financial.

20

PQ: For our final question, you neglected to tell us you are a motorcycle enthusiast. What kind do you ride?

SD: [Chuckles] I congratulate you on a fine piece of journalism. That isn't widely known. After Victor was killed, I had something of a midlife crisis and I decided to take some time off to reevaluate my life choices. Father and Mother had been motorcycle enthusiasts for several years before they were married, and they often rode the back roads seeing the sights and looking for adventure. So I thought I would do the same. Father had ridden a 1965 Triumph Bonneville T120 motorcycle. I managed to find a 1971 model on the Internet, which I bought and fixed up. I then went out on the road for a month. At the end of that time I reaffirmed my commitment to running the Order and returned home. Since then I've found time to take short trips on weekends and holidays, mostly around Norfolk, but not lately. I figure I'll become more active again when Henry is older. I still own that Bonnie; it occupies a space of honour in the garage. However, I've had other models since. The latest are a Triumph Rocket III touring bike and a Tiger 955i dual-sport bike.

PQ: Do you have any other toys?

SD: Aside from my airship, I have a number of vehicles: four saloons—three Rolls-Royce Phantoms used for Order business and a Jaguar XFR; two coupés—a Lotus Exige and an Aston Martin DBS Volante; a reinforced Hummer H3 and an armored HX; a Volkner Mobil Performance Motorhome, which Henry and I use to tour the country; the Dahut Morgen, a 42-meter superyacht for personal exploration; the Penarddun, a 61-meter superyacht for routine Order missions; the Sabrina, a 75-meter superyacht for personal activities; the Hælsing, an 85-meter superyacht for Order reconnaissance; a Boeing 737 private jet for Order reconnaissance and an Airbus A380 private jet for Order missions; and a Eurocopter EC135 helicopter for short ferries and a Sikorsky S-92 executive helicopter for Order reconnaissance. I've also acquired a Carter Personal Air Vehicle; that's a type of autogyro. I am evaluating it for possible use as recon/surveillance vehicle. That, and I enjoy flying it.

Now, mind you, neither I nor the Order would be able to afford to buy all these items alone. Most of them were purchased with the help of government funding, bank loans, and donor contributions. In most cases, the actual share of ownership by myself and/or the Order is 15% or less, usually less. I'm free to use them, but I cannot sell them off without coming to an accommodation with the other share holders, especially the banks.

PQ: Thank you for your courtesy, Sir Differel, we greatly appreciate your cooperation.

SD: You're welcome.

21

PQ: We would like to direct our 21st question to your servant, Vlad Drăkulya.

SD: Be my guest, though I cannot guarantee you'll like the answer.

PQ: Why do you serve the Caerleon Order?

VLAD DRĂKULYA: I do not; I serve the Van Helsing Bloodline.

PQ: All right then, why do you serve the Van Helsings?

VD: I gave my word.

PQ: That's all?

VD: That is enough.

PQ: You do it of your own free will?

VD: Yes; why else would I?

PQ: Out of respect or fear.

VD: For whom?

PQ: Humans.

VD: [Sneers] I have nothing but contempt for Humans; you are only food to me. I consider the overwhelming vast majority of you to be undeserving of life. As Screwtape pointed out in a toast ["Screwtape Proposes a Toast", C. S. Lewis], you are too mundane, too ordinary, never striving after those grandiose achievements of Good or Evil that bring meaning and purpose to life. As Apollonius of Tyana put it [7 Faces of Dr. Lao, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1964], for all that you accomplish, you might as well have never lived at all.

PQ: Then why do you protect us?

VD: I do not. I am nothing but a weapon in the hand of my Master; she decides when and how to wield me, and against whom. It is she who protects you.

PQ: But why did you agree to that?

VD: You Humans have one saving grace: you all have the ability to achieve greatness, if only you possess the strength and the will. That is what I would protect.

PQ: What makes you think that?

VD: There are individuals among you, rams among the sheep, who epitomize that greatness. One such was Abraham Van Helsing. He defeated me, despite my vast power and experience, and I respected and admired that. To be sure, I offered my service to preserve my life, but also to protect him and his Bloodline, so that he and his descendants could have the opportunity to aspire to more greatness. He was worthy of my service, as is Sir Differel. She has achieved his level of greatness; in fact, she has surpassed it. She is the best her Bloodline has produced, so far. It will be another century, at least, before it produces another as great as her.

PQ: You really believe that?

VD: Think of it: a girl who faces down horrors that would send grown men into screaming fits like hysterical women. A maiden who openly defies and mocks a creature with the powers of a god. A mother who stands toe-to-toe with a man who can engage Vampires in unarmed combat and destroy them. A matron who charges straight into the teeth of a horde of monsters that battle-hardened marines would flee from. How can you doubt it?

PQ: There are some who would say that is mere bravado, foolishness, or delusion.

VD: [Grins in a cruel manner] Then there are "some" whose brains have been replaced with sh—

SD: Behave yourself, Thrall!

VD: Yes, My Master. [Team Girl laugh their heads off]

PQ: Uh, yes, well, I think that's sufficient. Thank you for your time, Sir Differel.

SD: Don't mention it. I'll have Aelfraed show you out. [Tape turned off]

Return to About the Director.

We Hold the Line, and This Line Shall Not Be Crossed!