Afraid of being caught by trackers from another world, a young mother abandons her baby boy in a tomato box inside the screened porch of a children's home. The staff at the orphanage name him Hamelin Stoop, but he grows up longing to learn his real name, find his parents, and thus discover his true identity.
Life is not easy for Hamelin. He belongs to everyone, though in some ways to no one fully. And the people he is closest to leave him one by one. A letter from an older friend advises Hamelin to keep waiting and keep hoping. Bitter experiences force Hamelin to wait, but he has to learn how to hope.
When the children's home forgets his eighth birthday, he sneaks away at night. He soon discovers that he isn't just running away - he is being summoned by the Ancient One. Guided by the Great Eagle through a mysterious cave, Hamelin must pass a dangerous test of courage before he can find his parents.
Hamelin's failures, fears, and hopes become part of a larger story, a story of a great struggle between worlds and kingdoms where the old myths of magic, evil contracts, and enslaved children turn out to be real.