Prologue: Holland at the turn of the 19th century
Petit Allan, son of Queen Anne and princeling of Jutland, plays with his kite along the coast of the Wadden Sea. The Fool, an unearthly character, causes the kite to become ensnared in a tree while the boy ponders the kite’s desire for flight.
The party at Harlingen to find a suitable match for the daughter of the King Marcellus is going well while guards, Vanox and Stephano, keep watch. Princess Maleine and Prince Hjalmar meet and fall instantly in love. The princess’ father, however, wants to form an alliance with the Duke of Burgundy and he steers his daughter’s attention away from Hjalmar. A terrible argument breaks out between the two kings and Maleine runs from the party, distraught.
The following morning, Maleine’s mother, Queen Godelieve, and her handmaiden, Aleta, try to convince the princess to marry the Duke of Burgundy, but Maleine, refuses. King Marcellus, loses his temper and banishes her to the tower while he prepares for war with King Hjalmar, blaming her for the conflict. Queen Godelive’s handmaid, Aleta, accompanies Maleine into prison.
The two women, trapped high above the city, do not know that Hjalmar’s army has decimated Marcellus’ kingdom. Prince Hjalmar surveys the aftermath of the attack with Angus, searching for signs that Maleine (with whom he, too, had fallen instantly in love) may have survived. They depart empty handed. Aleta and Maleine break out of the tower and escape their scorched homeland.
On their journey Maleine and Aleta seek direction from The Fool, who provides just enough detail to guide them to the Judas Crossroads that leads to Ysselmonde. Meanwhile, Queen Anne and King Hjalmar celebrate their victory in battle. Queen Anne, the hated consort of the king, is determined to secure her legacy by any means.
At a pub near the Judas Crossroads, Maleine (in disguise) is devastated to hear that her Prince Hjalmar is to wed Ursula, the daughter of Queen Anne. Aleta, hearing that all the Queen’s servants have deserted the castle, secures a place for both of them at court. They next day Maleine attends Princess Ursula as she prepares for a pre-wedding rendezvous with Prince Hjalmar.
Maleine invents a pretext to replace Ursula at the rendezvous, where she reveals her true identity to the Prince. Overjoyed at being reunited, the couple fall into an ecstatic embrace. At the engagement party Prince Hjalmar renounces Ursula and declares Maleine as his true bride. King Hjalmar collapses and everyone rushes to his aid.
Everyone is strolling in the palace gardens. King Hjalmar, increasingly frail, accepts that Princess Maleine is now betrothed to Prince Hjalmar. Aleta adopts a stray dog, while Petit Allan continues to dance with his kite. The dog, Pluto, is taken in by Maleine and the King, who begin to find common ground while Queen Anne plots revenge against Maleine for supplanting her daughter. She commands the court physician to concoct more of the poison she has been using to weaken the King. King Hjalmar regrets his allegiance with Anne, but is too enfeebled of mind and spirit to defend himself.
Maleine learns from The Fool that she may be pregnant with Prince Hjalmar’s child. She seeks out the Prince at their secret rendezvous, where they spend a few joyful moments together before she confesses to being afraid for her future.
As Queen Anne measures Maleine for her wedding dress, she poisons a piece of the lace. Maleine grows weak, grieving for her mother, while the King and the Prince share remorse about Anne’s deceptions.
A storm rages as Maleine sings to her unborn child, then falls asleep. Queen Anne brings the reluctant King Hjalmar into the princess’s chamber where he watches helplessly as Anne strangles Maleine. Nuns in the nearby abbey sing vespers. Pluto breaks free from the king and runs to find Prince Hjalmar.
The Prince, a nurse and Aleta go to see Maleine, but find her dead. King Hjalmar indicts the Queen, who boldly confesses, accusing everyone in the room of complicity in the slaughter of Maleine’s family. She reveals Maleine’s pregnancy and Prince Hjalmar, overcome, kills Anne and then himself.
Princess Ursula mourns her mother’s death and Petit Allan asks if he is to spend the rest of his life alone. Aleta assures him she will be there for him. The Fool watches.