Yves Montand's les feuilles mortes is Merwen as Gwen ages and becomes old, memories flitting in and out of her consciousness as Merlin tends to her last moments on her death bed, her hand caressing his cheek as she says the final goodbye. Merlin clutches into her hand tight, his shoulders tremored as he sobs, losing his last friend and lover.
Dude it’s MY job to make people sad about Merwen! If you keep this up, I’ll be out of a job!!! And I can’t afford that in this tragic fandom economy.
Ngl tho, you’re absolutely right about the vibes. Although if I might add, I also kinda get a reincarnation vibe from it too.
The scene: France, 1947. WWII is finally over. Merlin, or Michon Epinette as he goes by now, is walking down a wet cobblestone street. His face is sullen. As he walks, hands stuffed into his pockets and head bowed, flashbacks are interjected into his mind. Brief snippets of his time in Camelot - meeting Arthur, hanging out with the knights, saving the kingdom. But above all, his time with Gwen. All the memories and laughs and tears they shared together.
The flashbacks increase in frequency the further along he comes, only now they’re all focusing on Arthur’s death, Leon and Gaius and Percival’s deaths, until only Merlin and Gwen remain. Until Gwen ages and dies too, until Merlin is left weeping over her dead body. But in none of the memories do any of their faces appear. The faces and appearances of his loved ones are just some of the many things he’s forgotten after all these years, much to his distress.
Merlin shakes his head to force the memories away, and enters a bar. It’s pretty empty. Everyone is fairly quiet aside from the clanking of glasses and occasional murmurs here and there - and on the stage, a slow, morose jazz performance.
He sits down at the bar and gets a drink, watching the performance and trying not to cry over how deeply the mournful lyrics speak to him. It’s the 1400-year anniversary of Gwen’s death, and it stings just as intensely now as it did back then.
The woman singing wears a yellow dress that is elegant yet simple, back exposed and black gloves deftly holding the microphone. Her own eyes are tearful, she herself affected by her own lyrics - Les Feuilles Mortes, now that he thinks about it - and if not for some impressive self-control then her elaborate makeup might have been running.
But looking at her face, her dark, gentle face and deep brown eyes, a most profound sense of deja vu settles into his gut. As if he should know her somehow.
But Merlin has lived for many, many years, and has met many, many people. If he’s met her before, he doesn’t remember, and likely never will. And besides, it was probably nothing important.
Still, the clenching of his heart pulls him to her. As if something terrible will happen, as if he’ll suffer a loss worse than he can ever imagine, if he doesn’t hold her in his arms this very moment.
Instead of sweeping her up and never letting go, Merlin waits for the song to end, politely applauds, and then greets her as she sits down at the bar stool next to him. Another performer walks onto the stage in her place.
They speak in French as she asks if she’s seen him before, a puzzled look creasing her features. He says that he’s just got one of those faces, and reaches out his hand to shake hers. He introduces himself using his current alias, Michon Epinette, but his ribcage screams at him to tell the truth. To tell her that his name is Merlin. He ignores the impulse.
She calls herself Guinevere Laurent, and oh how his heart aches at the familiarity of it. Another Guinevere, just as kind and soft as his own had once been. He commends her performance, admits that it had made him cry, and she tells him it has that effect on people - especially those who have recently suffered a loss.
Ms. Laurent asks him who he’s lost, then gets flustered as she apologizes for being so forward. He instead tells her that he lost a great deal of friends. Everyone he’s ever known and loved is dead now.
“The war?” she surmises.
“Yes,” he says, because while they’re not thinking about the same war it’s still true.
She sips from her cocktail glass. “I lost a great deal of friends to the war as well. My brother Elouan, my best friend Lazare, and my father Thomas. Normandy, all of them.”
He shrugs. “If they had to die at war, at least it was Normandy.” Then, flustering - “Oh no, I’m so sorry! That was so insensitive of me. I didn’t mean -”
Ms. Laurent - Guinevere - shakes her head. “It’s fine. You’re right, though. Normandy is...heroic. As good a place to die as any. I just...I just wish they hadn’t had to die in the first place.”
Merlin has nothing to say to that, so he doesn’t. And the two of them sit there at the bar counter, nursing their cocktails - which are, coincidentally, the exact same - and ruminate over their respective losses. Guinevere Laurent is likely thinking about the second world war, and Merlin is thinking about Camlann. And both of them are thinking about after. What happens next. Where they go from here, when everyone they care about is six feet under.
While the similarity in names is likely a coincidence, Merlin can’t help but feel drawn to this Guinevere too. She speaks and acts and feels so much like the one he lost that his chest burns with sorrow. But also, perhaps, with something else too. Something he hasn’t felt in a long time.
Merlin ventures out his broken heart and cracks a joke, trying to lighten her spirits. For the life of him, he will never be able to remember what the joke is, but it does its job in making a tentative smile splash onto her face.
Warily, with an uneven and rough voice, she murmurs out a joke of her own. He won’t ever be able to remember that one, either, but he laughs just as quietly and genuinely as she did.
After an hour their laughter has transformed into something loud and unending, and it fills up the entire bar with an orange, jovial mood. Other people are talking amongst themselves with more liveliness than they had before, and now Merlin and Guinevere are not the only people smiling in here. Even the scrunched-faced bartender is cracking a grin.
It feels familiar. It feels like he’s been in this situation before - laughing with someone as loudly as possible to chase away their mutual pains, until their desperation turns into sincerity and sincerity into passion.
For one glorious evening, Merlin allows himself to exist in a fantasy world where Gwen isn’t dead, but sitting right next to him. It’s weird and wrong, for sure, but he can’t help pretending that Guinevere Laurent and Guinevere Pendragon are the same person.
The crowd raucously, drunkenly cries out to Guinevere for an encore, begging her to give them another song. She shakes her head and says she’s done for the night, and all her songs are too sad anyway, but the crowd remains insistent.
Merlin nudges her shoulder with his own. “You can do this, Gwen.”
And for some reason, just locking eyes with him is enough for her to acquiesce.
She dusts off her dress and reluctantly shuffles onto the stage once more, and the current performer steps aside to let her have the microphone.
Guinevere discusses something with the people manning the instruments, and after a moment they appear to reach an agreement of some kind.
As the music swells to life, she casts one final glance at Merlin. He nods encouragingly, and she nods back, then closes her eyes and begins.
“Je suis seul ce soir,” she sings in a soulful cadence.
He loses himself in the music, lets the medieval nostalgia consume him like a snake devouring a field mouse - and just as the snake’s venom strikes the mouse, so too does a heartbreaking realization strike Merlin.
He called her Gwen. He referred to Guinevere Laurent as Gwen, his Gwen.
But she’s not. She’s not his Gwen.
His Gwen is dead, and she’s not coming back.
Suddenly, the whole world flares harshly at him. The lights are too modern and bright, the music is too loud and lively, the crowd is too busy and young. And Guinevere Laurent stands on the stage, eyes closed as she sings from the heart.
And it’s not Gwen. It’s not Gwen, it’s not Gwen, it’s not Gwen, and the reminder of this truth is a slap to the face. Gwen didn’t dress like that, didn’t speak that language, didn’t sing in French bars or drink cheap cocktails.
Gwen died. She died in pain, and she died gasping for air, and she died pushing him away in fear because her senile mind could not recall who he was. She died afraid, surrounded by faces and places she didn’t recognize, tearfully asking for a brother who had been dead for decades.
But even despite with all the differences, Guinevere Laurent looks so horribly similar to Gwen, back when she was young and innocent. The similarities, the memories, are enough to shatter whatever shaky pieces of his heart he had managed to cobble together.
Merlin presses a trembling fist to his mouth as tears pierce their way through his eyes, clouding his vision and sapping his body of any resolve it might have had.
He fumbles out of the bar to get away from it all, lest the agony bubble out of him like blood. The cold air stings his cheeks, but the bitterness of it provides a momentary distraction from the memories left behind in the bar.
Determined to find some other hole-in-the-wall at which to drink and forget forget forget, Merlin stumbles away, not even bothering to wipe away the curtain of tears shuttering his face.
But back in the bar, Guinevere Laurent begins to remember things. As the melody holds up her heart, as the fondness that ‘Michon’ had born within her chest lifts her ever higher, flashes of a distant life spark in her mind.
A boy with an impish grin, stuck in the stocks but still shaking her hand. A young man with a colourful scarf, sitting on a hill and braiding flowers into her hair. A friend, back pressed to hers as they both hold swords and fight to defend their kingdom. A companion, holding her wrinkled hands and helping her get up the stairs.
The name whispers into her mind. Merlin.
But as the final notes of Seule Ce Soir rumble to an end, as Guinevere opens her eyes in the hopes of soaking in the rays of her old friend’s presence, she finds no sign of Michon - Merlin - and instead a vacancy in his place.
Thanks for the ask! <3
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