Disclaimer: Ngozi owns these amazing characters.
A/N: One of my favorite things about being a liberal arts grad is the ability to pull stuff like this out of thin air. Four years ago, I took a study abroad course about the second-generation British Romantics, including Lord Byron. We went to London, Geneva, Venice, Florence, and Rome; we read a group biography called Young Romantics by Daisy Hay; and we slogged through about two hundred pages of excerpts by Byron, the Shelleys, and Keats. The trip was both amazing and awful: we saw tons of breathtaking sights . . . and nobody talked to me, and I came back convinced I was unfit for human companionship. Anyway, as soon as I found out Shitty's name, I knew I had to write this.
"You're named after the greatest poet since Shakespeare," Byron's father tells him. Byron doesn't see his father often, but sometimes his father comes and says good night to him after his nanny has put him to bed, and he likes to tell Byron about his namesake. His namesake who was brilliant and brave and handsome, who wrote epic poems and fought in an epic war.
Byron's ten when he finally manages to read "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage." He's tried to make it through his parents' leather-bound volume before, but he's never managed to make it past the first few pages. The rhymes are delightful, but the poem as a whole is dense. He's read poems in school—Shel Silverstein and the like—and they're rarely more than a page long. "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" is on a completely different level. But something about having a double-digit age gives Byron the fortitude to make it through the whole book.
And now he has places he wants to go. It's not unusual for his parents to take him to France for a couple weeks in the summer, but this summer he wants to retrace his namesake's footsteps: England, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Switzerland, Italy. His parents hem and haw for a while about it, so Byron decides he needs to go all in—he gets travel guides from the library and looks up information on the internet, and he even calls a travel agent and pretends to be his own mother (since his voice hasn't dropped yet). He plans and researches and researches and plans until he has a three-week trip all mapped out, complete with hotels and flights.
So his parents say yes, and off to Europe they fly. They start in Portugal and then head to Spain, and then they fly to Greece and see where Lord Byron died. Byron hadn't realized that his namesake died of a fever—his father's stories had always emphasized the Greek war for independence. So Greece is a bit of a letdown. Rome and Venice are cool, though—Lord Byron had this massive palazzo in the city of Venice and kept horses on an island called the Lido and studied Armenian with exiled Armenian monks on an island called San Lazaro, so Byron and his parents visit all the islands, ferrying from one to the other.
After Venice, the Knights head north to Switzerland. Byron is mostly interested in the country because of Canto III of "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage," but his mother insists they stop in Geneva at the Villa Diodati, which Lord Byron owned for a little while in 1816. It's the place where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, Byron's mother tells him. Byron says he doesn't care. Years later, he'll actually read the book, and he'll realize Mary had a better head on her shoulders than any of the men she kept company with, but for now he really has no opinions about her or her work.
England is where things change. Byron's father has given into his begging and managed to get the family a private tour of Harrow, the boarding school Lord Byron attended. Byron is excited to visit the fourth form room and see his own name carved into the wall in block letters, to run his fingers over the carving and know he's touching the same wood as his namesake. It feels just as good as he thought it would. But later, in the churchyard, he wanders away from his parents for a minute and notices some words carved into a stone at the base of the church building: "In memory of ALLEGRA, daughter of LORD BYRON and CLAIRE CLAIRMONT. Born in Bath 13/1/1817. Died Bagnacavallo 19/4/1822. Buried nearby. Erected by the Byron Society."
"Dad, who was Allegra?" he calls.
His parents stop walking through the churchyard and turn around. "Who?"
"This stone is for Allegra," Byron explains. "It says she was the daughter of Lord Byron and Claire Clairmont. Who was Allegra? And who was Claire Clairmont? I thought Lord Byron's wife's name was Annabella."
His father sighs. "It was. Lord Byron . . . separated from Annabella in 1816. He then met Claire Clairmont, Mary Shelley's . . . half-sister, I believe? Lord Byron and Claire had a daughter named Allegra, and she died young. It's a blot on Lord Byron's reputation, to be sure, that he was . . . involved with so many women. But he was still the greatest poet since Shakespeare, and that's the most important part."
Byron notices that his mother is giving his father a dirty look. Then he looks back at the cracked, mossy stone. It doesn't seem right. It's not even a gravestone; it's a stone that's part of the building. What does "buried nearby" mean? Why isn't it right over Allegra's grave? And—Byron does the math—if Allegra was born in 1817 and died in 1822, then she was five when she died. His cousin Eloise is five. It doesn't seem right that a five-year-old would die. And to not even have a gravestone! Byron doesn't like it.
"Byron! Come along now," calls his father.
Byron wipes his eyes on the back of his hands—he hadn't realized he was crying. His father notices and says, "Oh, for Christ's sake, she died nearly 200 years ago, and she was a bastard anyway. The point of this tour was to see where Lord Byron went to school."
Byron's accustomed to saying, "Yes, Father," but he can't make himself say it this time. Something about "she was a bastard anyway" doesn't feel right.
When Byron gets back to the US, he Googles Allegra, but that doesn't get him very far, so then he Googles Claire Clairmont. It only takes a few clicks and a bit of scrolling for him to wind up appalled. He's spent his entire life looking up to Lord Byron, but the way he treated Claire? Taking Allegra away and refusing to let Claire visit her? Refusing to provide any money for Claire when it was his fault her reputation and prospects were ruined? Byron can't abide by this. This isn't heroic. This isn't even right. For the first time in his life, he's ashamed of his name.
When he goes to school the next fall, he asks his friends and his teachers to call him B rather than Byron. Most of them do. That's all well and good until his report card comes in the mail and his teachers' comments refer to him as B. His father asks him why and B replies that it's because Lord Byron was a jerk and he doesn't want a jerk's name. His father yells back that Lord Byron was a fine man and a fine writer and B is lucky to have his name, and B returns that if Lord Byron was so good then he should have done better by Claire Clairmont, and his father tells him that he's ten years old and has no business judging adults, and it devolves from there. It's the first screaming match B has with his father, but by no means the last.
A few years later, B starts attending Andover. He's been playing hockey since he was a kid, but Andover is the real deal, or at least as real as high school hockey can get. So it stands to reason that this is where he gets his first hockey nickname. He's only vaguely been aware of the tradition of hockey nicknames prior to this, so he didn't really have expectations for what his nickname would be until tryouts. But then the upperclassmen start giving nicknames to some of the more promising younger players, and it always seems to be based on the person's last name, so B figures he'll be Knightster or something.
Unfortunately, the captain's favorite subject is English and he knows his British Romantics. "Your name is Byron?" he asks B.
"I go by B," B replies.
"That's not an answer," the captain points out.
B crosses his arms. "I know."
"Your name is Byron, yes or no?" the captain asks.
"Yes," B grits out.
"Cool. You're Bysshe now. Welcome to the team."
"Bish?" someone asks. "Like fish? What does bish have to do with Byron?"
The captain rolls his eyes. "Bysshe. Like Percy Bysshe Shelley. Lord Byron's best friend." No one laughs. "Come on, it's a joke."
Some sycophants titter nervously, but no one seems to find the nickname actually funny other than the captain.
The nickname gradually grows on B. He hates Percy Shelley, partially as an extension of hating Byron and partially because of the research he's done on Claire Clairmont, whom Shelley didn't treat well either. But Bysshe is one syllable, which makes it easy to yell, and it starts with a B and it's not Byron. He still tries to go by B in his classes, but on the ice he's Bysshe, and it's okay.
Still, he's thrilled when he gets the letter from Samwell. Samwell means a lot of things—a way to break from his father's family, a place to stretch himself academically, and a new hockey team that will hopefully give him a new nickname. Most of all, he's pretty sure Samwell means freedom.