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The Greatest Fiction Podcast On Stitcher (and wherever you listen to podcasts on iPhone, Android, or other devices)

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It starts, as all things start, with a voice behind a microphone. There is a sigh, a creak as someone leans forward in their chair, and a click as someone presses the record button. That voice speaks, and when the recording is done it is released into the ether that is the internet, a whisper in the wilderness, the dark, the unknown.

Perhaps one person will hear it. Perhaps no one. In this case one very tired college student working on a mathematical proof and desperate for some sort of distraction before she pulls her hair out from the root clicks on the first random podcast she finds on Spotify. That is where this story, that may have stopped with one person or none in another life, begins.

Yasmin (is Writing) Turan @juicy-juice_galore
So I’m listening to this history podcast and I think I might throw up from laughing so hard?

Yasmin (is Writing) Turan @juicy-juice_galore
The narrator’s just losing his shit while talking about the spice trade and the Silk Road?! Like, he’s going wild!

Yasmin (is Writing) Turan @juicy-juice_galore
He called in his husband, they’re arguing about recipes changing over time and distance, but guys the sexual tension is CHARGED! I am TOO YOUNG FOR THIS?!

Yasmin (is Writing) Turan @juicy-juice_galore
Husband (his name is Nicky?) just said psl’s use standard mulling spices so it’s fine to be basic, we’ve been basic forever.

Becky Fulkerson @becky_with_the_hair
There is only One Good Man, and he is Husband Nicky.

Yasmin (is Writing) Turan @juicy-juice_galore
Narrator Joe agrees, you can hear the heart-eyes!

It starts as one twitter thread. Only one. At first. But by the end of the week there are a hundred. Maybe more. The internet is, after all, a wilderness. Who knows what grows out in the wild? But soon there are posts and threads throughout all of social media. Then there are the clips, yanked from the podcast, completely out of context, and posted on YouTube for the world to enjoy.

“Andy: Baklava Investigator- The Old Guard Episode 34”

The video is a still shot of the podcast album cover, a black square with an illustrated purple axe in the center. The words “The Old Guard” are pasted above the illustration in a bold white script. The audio begins with a bright, happy laugh.

“Shh shh shh!” One male voice, not Narrator Joe or Husband Nicky, insists, and silence follows. There may or may not be the sound of thoughtful chewing in the distance, but that is a matter of debate.

“... Lauzinaq. This is lauzinaq,” a woman, Andy, says firmly, and the room descends into chaos. There is wild laughter, and Old Guard fans are quick to point out Narrator Joe’s distinctive belly laugh as Husband Nicky groans and mutters in the background. Husband Nicky, Narrator Joe explains later in the episode, baked the lauzinaq, hoping that presenting a controversial dish into the “what makes baklava baklava” debate would trip Andy up.

Clearly it did not.

"How do you know this shit?!” a woman exclaims- she’s the youngest of the crew, Nile, and she rarely joins in on the episodes unless it’s a discussion on art history. She and Narrator Joe like discussing modern art, even though they are, ostensibly, hosting a history podcast. They have Strong Opinions on The Bean (“It’s The Bean and we should paint it pink,” Nile insists, and Narrator Joe calculates how much PINK! they should order to make it so).

“Ah, Nicky, you are an easy mark!” the male voice declares. Fans know this man is Book, Booker, and/or Bastien depending on the day and who is talking to him. He normally discusses literature with Husband Nicky or Nile, but on occasion he shows up to place bets on Andy and collect money from anyone who dares to bet against him. It’s a great bit, even if everyone listening knows that Booker always wins.

“Andy has always loved baklava,” another woman, not Andy or Nile, says fondly. “She is a connoisseur, yes?” This woman is Quynh, and no one is quite certain what her role in the podcast is beyond delivering epic roasts and cryptic information.

(Once, when Booker, Narrator Joe, and Husband Nicky were engaged in a heated debate over the merits and possible ethical dilemma of murdering Napoleon, Andy asked Quynh for her thoughts on the topic (“Quynh, my love, what do you think?”).

(“I don’t know,” Quynh said simply. “The fish did not inform me of Napoleon while I was drowning.”)

It is obviously a fiction podcast. Obviously. But the research. The RESEARCH! As Lady Gaga would famously say: “talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular…” There are stories that are so intricate, remarks so casual, statements so deeply personal, that someone had to have buried themselves in primary sources and lived, breathed, died, resurrected, and repeated ad nauseum in order to get that level of detail and clarity into the narrative. Every once in a while there’s a joke, a comment, a brief laugh over some event or figure that makes it seem like the cast was actually there, that they met these people, that they lived these lives.

(There is one memorable episode (The Old Guard, Episode 56: Italian Renaissance Statuary) in which Narrator Joe waxes poetically about how many sculptors pined for Husband Nicky over the ages.)

(“Michelangelo never could get my nose right,” Husband Nicky comments, and the memes birthed from this moment flood the internet.)

Then there is the acting. The relationships are nuanced, the deliveries perfectly imperfect- it always feels like the microphones are set in a room of friends reminiscing over past adventures, letting their other friends who weren’t present know what happened while they were away. Nile fits in as an audience surrogate, asking the questions fans wish they could ask, but sometimes that role is played by Quynh, Booker, or occasionally Narrator Joe himself. It is also clear there is history between the cast, relationships that have been forged and broken, mended or mending. Some topics are never broached, some questions never answered, and fans know that there is no use asking for clarification. Might as well scream into the void. It would be more productive.

The point is that this podcast is clearly researched and written by professionals. Professional historians. Professional comedians. Professional actors. Professional hands are all over this, no doubt. But no one is willing to confess to it.

Dr. Felicity Johnson (UC Berkeley) @drjohnsonUCB
I regret to inform the world that I am neither a writer nor consultant for the historical fiction podcast The Old Guard. But if anyone is, I would love access to your source materials!

spooooooky jun @jundoesart
Back to square one I guess! #findtheresearchers #theoldguard #thegameisafoot

But despite the podcast regularly going up every other Monday, there are no socials. No links to writers. No “find us here!” buttons. No bios. In a wilderness crowded with eyes and ears, the cast and crew of The Old Guard are ghosts. It only makes the mystery of the podcast and crew more alluring than before. Who are they? Why are they? Is there some overarching plot, or will it always be a group of friends discussing history as if they were really there (Quynh’s diatribe on archery in The Old Guard Episode 22: Kublai Khan is the stuff of legend in the fandom).

The characters are always a topic of heated debate within the fandom- are they time travelers? Space aliens? Gods? Immortal beings who actually lived through the events they discuss? All anyone can agree on is that Andy is the oldest. How old? Old as balls. Nile is the baby, but she is not “baby” and can give as good as she gets from the others. Booker hates Napoleon and would probably piss on his grave if he could break into the hôtel des Invalides- and he may have. No one is telling. Quynh prefers riding horseback to any other mode of travel and has a dark sense of humor (see all of her drowning comments and the infamous “I am obviously not a witch, I sunk to the bottom of the sea.” line during the witchcraft trial episode). Lastly, Narrator Joe and Husband Nicky’s love is eternal and will outlive the heat death of the universe.

There’s no official merchandise store, and no plans for one for the foreseeable future. Fans eagerly fill the space, producing all sorts of merch (“Paint The Bean PINK!” and “The fish didn’t tell me.” are two popular fandom slogans, along with “He never did get my nose right.”) One popular tote bag is merely a list of historical figures that Andy may or may not have fucked (she is, as fans like to say, not one to kiss and tell). There is a set of couple’s tees that list the pet names Narrator Joe and Husband Nicky call each other, and another set with a bow and an axe. A large part of the fandom forms a book club where they read Booker’s recommendations and discuss them, and local booksellers everywhere take note of the strange requests for works that are long out of print. There is fanart. There are fan songs. There are animations, and no one is quite sure how to portray any of the cast of The Old Guard, but some little genius (the earliest animation was by AlyssaAnimations) simply used some of Michelangelo’s statues as a stand-in for Husband Nicky, starting a trend that continues to this day.

But the most profound effect of this silly historical fiction podcast about time travelers/immortal god aliens talking about history is how it inspires listeners to learn. People are learning more about their pasts, their people, sharing what they know and arguing and wondering what has been said and, perhaps more importantly, when to sit and listen. There are things to be said, of course there are, but there is also a time to listen. And people are listening. The numbers grow every day.

Tattoos of the labrys, the double axe that is the symbol for The Old Guard, now adorn dozens of bodies. Possibly hundreds. Possibly more. No one is certain. Not everyone shares their lives on the internet, after all.

And somewhere in a home office, at his computer with a glass of water and two tabs of aspirin in his hand, sits former CIA operative James Copley. He is not paid nearly enough to handle the weekly nonsense of six immortals and the chaos they cause through their little podcast. But no one knows about him beyond jokes about “that poor FBI agent who has to listen to all this shit.”

And that’s just how he wants it to be.