The story begins in 1212 A.D. All Europe is fighting a series of Crusades to win Jerusalem back from the Saracens who hold the city captive. Life is hard. Even children have to work, either in the fields or helping to build the great cathedrals of the day.
A ragged beggar, a veteran of the Crusades, wanders through France. His name is WOLFRAM. Wolfram knows that the Crusades are as much about killing and plunder as about the glory of God, but then he sees a chance for some plunder for himself.
A shepherd boy named STEPHEN has had a vision that he, Stephen, will lead an army of children to free Jerusalem once and for all.
Children from all over France are flocking to his side, leaving their homes, ignoring the entreaties of their parents, eager for the glory of doing what no adult has been able to do.
Wolfram follows Stephen too. He has a plan.
At first the children's march is a triumphant progress. Every day new recruits join Stephen. Maybe some of them hesitate, like MADELEINE, a girl who lost her father in a previous Crusade. But Stephen's confidence inspires them all and blows away doubt, even when the journey seems impossibly hard in a broiling summer heat.
Bravely, in spite of fear, hunger, rejection by the towns and villages they pass through, the children make their way south through France to the sea.
And still Wolfram follows, befriending the children, providing them with things they need.
So does Madeleine's MOTHER, determined to save her child.
At last they reach Marseilles. But how will they cross the Mediterranean Sea? All along Stephen has said, "The waters will part!"
On the sea shore, Stephen gives the command. But the waves keep coming in. And then — a miracle.
Two SEA CAPTAINS come on the scene, with promises of an exciting trip and a pleasant adventure. They persuade Stephen that it is their ships that will fulfill Stephen's prophecy, part the waters, and carry the children to Jerusalem.
The young Crusaders happily agree. Only Madeleine is sceptical. She senses something terrible is about to happen. And she is right.
As the children board the ships Wolfram rushes forward, shouting a warning. He has had a change of heart. It was he who betrayed them to the Sea Captains for a reward, and now the Captains will sell the children into slavery.
But Wolfram's warning comes too late. Excited by the sea journey they've been promised, the children refuse to turn back and for his pains Wolfram is tossed into the harbor by the Captains. Stephen now realizes that his Crusade will never reach Jerusalem, but makes the choice to go with his doomed followers anyway.
Only Madeleine remains behind.
And Wolfram? He will survive to tell the story of the children's innocent heroism - and perhaps, in the telling, make a modest living for himself.
"Serious subject matter... sophisticated score... a giant step from the traditional fairy tale " The New York Times
NOTE on Production Requirements: The production requires four adults - three MEN, one WOMAN, and a CHORUS of singer actors, with an age range from teenage to as young as possible. The Chorus can equally well be comprised of YOUNG ADULT performers 16-21 years old.
A unit set, with imaginative sound effects, dance and movement, atmospheric lighting, puppets, as the director chooses, can be added.