In medieval England, a homeless orphan girl who has no name, and can recall being named Brat, attempts to nestle in a warm dung heap on a cold night. She wakes up to the taunts of village boys, and Jane Sharp" asks her if she's alive. Jane takes her on as her apprentice, renames her "Beetle," but does not teach Beetle about midwifery for fear of competition. Jane is greedy and cruel, but she has a monopoly on her services, and the villagers, unable to take their anger out on the midwife, take it out on Beetle.
Alyce is friends with a little homeless orphan boy, whom she names him Edward, after the King, and tells him to go to the manor to get food and a job.
Jane helps a woman in labor with the help of Alyce and word arrives the Lady of the Manor is in labor. Jane abandons the new mother to Alyce's care to the Lady. Alyce is kind to the woman and successfully delivers the baby, and the grateful parents pay her and name the child "Alyce Little."
A woman's son comes to Alyce asking her to deliver her baby. This is a more difficult birth, Alyce fails and is overwhelmed by her inability to help. Jane sweeps in and presides over the birth, and Alyce flees, not wanting to endure the shame. She leaves the town with her cat.
In another town, she comes to an inn where the owner gives Alyce work in exchange for food. and becomes fond of Alyce. A scholar from Oxford, staying for the winter, teaches Alyce how to read.
Alyce misses Edward and wants to find out how he is faring. She returns to the village to check on him, and finds that he has been supported without working. Their reunion is like that of a brother and sister. Alyce tells him to work properly and she returns to the inn.
All she wants is to be a midwife, so she returns to the village with a new sense of self purpose and asks to be the midwife’s apprentice again.