Visitors to Zindan, even those who have traveled here in a mourning party, enjoy touring the vast wall and reading the plaques and signs that describe its characteristics. Visitors are fascinated by the many facts on display: The precise height of the wall, exactly how many bricks it is made of, and the number of languages that can be found in the inscriptions. One fact that seems to resonate especially deeply with visitors is that, in terms of area, the wall casts a larger shadow than any other man-made object.
The shadow of Zindan’s wall falls on more than just the fertile ground of the Zindan valley. Metaphorically, the shadow touches nearly all aspects of life in our nation, in one way or another. The national railway, for example, has designed its train schedules to ensure speedy, non-stop travel of funeral carriages to Zindan. All other railway traffic is secondary to transport of the dead. Where once the agricultural products of the Zindan valley were shunned due to the proximity to the cemetery, the packaging on many Zindan products - milk and cheese and fruit - now proudly displays pastoral scenes with the wall depicted in the background.
I have lived in the shadow of Zindan’s wall my entire life. Both literally (our home sits a few hundred meters from the east gate) and spiritually. My mother, the youngest daughter of a successful family of bricklayers, was married to a third deputy minister in the Central Internment Bureau. Unsurprisingly, shortly after the wedding, my mother’s family was awarded an extremely generous construction tender as part of the project to build the wall. Our family came together in the shadow of the wall and we have lived here since.
When the wall was completed, our family evolved from one whose fortune was made from construction, to one whose fortune comes from interring the dead. Only twelve licenses to inter the dead in Zindan were issued, and my family, which was created by the need to build a wall, secured a one. For thirty years, we have prepared the dead for burial, organized funerals to celebrate their lives, and profited handsomely from our business within the wall that we helped create. Today, however, it seems that the wall plays a role in our unraveling.
The story of my family's demise begins with a victory. We secured the rights to bury the Great Khozem Vladisher, hero of our nation. The list of the Great Khozem's exploits is nearly endless. He was the last man to surrender at the battle of Peshmahad. He was imprisoned by the Vestoi for a decade before leading a prison rebellion and seizing the fortress at Xorosho pass. He was the first commander of the Blood Tigers, and the only officer in the history of our military to be admitted to both the Admiralty and the Marshal's council.
A health incident five years before his actual death sent the government into a panic. The great Khozem's funeral would be a rare chance for our nation to celebrate the high-points of our history together. A chance to inspire a new generation to revitalize the Great Khozem's vision for our future. Such an event simply could not be planned in the traditional four days between a death and a funeral.
Preparations for the Great Khozem's internment were begun in a panic and were well underway when he emerged from the infirmatorium a few weeks after he entered, apparently fully recovered from his health incident. But the planning for his eventual demise continued.
Like nearly everything else that is done in our country, planning for the funeral began with the issuance of a tender - a tender of enormous value. A tender to fully perform the eventual burial of Khozem Vladisher.
My family responded to the tender with what was, no doubt, a superior arrangement for the Great Khozem's internment. I ensured that our proposed funeral ceremony was irresistible by marrying my daughter to a ninth deputy minister of the Central Internment Bureau. My family won the tender.
The Great Khozem lived out the remaining five years of his life. Preparations for his inevitable funeral continued. All seemed well in Zindan.
Then the murmurations started.