Benedict is a boy from a privileged household. Spoiled and taught his role as the future benefactor to those less fortunate, he's grown up with specific strictures on how to behave toward others, and he's learned to look to his elders for unequivocal guidance.
Just before the next dance at the king's palace—a dance where Benedict, having just turned sixteen, is invited—a few strange things begin to happen. First, there's the matter regarding Jeremy, Benedict's friend, who lives in a poor cottage with his mother and grandmother in the woods. Jeremy's not only been acting oddly, but also is missing some of his marionette strings. No amount of prodding from Benedict yields answers, and the more he tries to delve into things, the more Jeremy pushes away.
Secondly, there's the matter regarding birds insisting that Benedict go to the palace to find the lost prince. With nothing but a key and obtuse instructions to go by, Benedict attempts to humor the birds but gradually realizes that the answer to the mystery of the lost prince could very well be a lot more personal than he'd first believed, especially when he sees Jeremy somehow being involved in it.