“I am Alyce. Not Brat or Dung Beetle or Beetle. Alyce.”
One frosty evening, a girl who knows no home, no parents, and no name but Brat finds shelter and warmth in a farmer's dung heap. There Jane the village midwife finds her. So it is that Brat--now called Beetle by her new mistress--begins her career as a midwife's apprentice.
It's not a soft life. Jane is a hard woman with a sharp glance and a sharper temper. Still, Beetle makes a place for herself, adopting a cat and befriending one of the village boys. By secretly watching Jane work, she learns some of the skills the midwife greedily tries to hide. Beetle even gives herself a real name at last: Alyce.
Then one day she fails at an important assignment. Alyce runs away, believing she is too stupid to be of use to anyone. Is she truly Brat, a know-nothing who belongs nowhere? Or is she Alyce, the midwife's apprentice, a person with a name and a place in the world?