During the Middle Ages, an itinerant girl of about 12 or 13 who knows ""no home and no mother and no name but Brat"" finds refuge one night by burrowing into a village dung heap where the warm, rotting muck will protect her from the bitter cold. In the morning she is taken in by a sharp-tongued woman who turns out to be Jane, the midwife. Brat is such a hard worker that before long she is accompanying Jane to birthings, where she cleans up after the work is done and acts as the midwife's ""gofer"" whenever necessary. Jane begins to trust her with some of the secrets of her trade, but when Brat is asked to help with a difficult birth and fails, she runs away ashamed not only of her lack of knowledge, but for her belief that she was ever worthy of learning. How Brat comes to terms with her failure and returns to Jane's home as a true apprentice is a gripping story about a time, place, and society that 20th-century readers can hardly fathom. Fortunately, Cushman (Catherine, Called Birdy, 1994) does the fathoming for them, rendering in Brat a character as fully fleshed and real as Katherine Paterson's best, in language that is simple, poetic, and funny. From the rebirth in the dung heap to Brat's renaming herself Alyce after a heady visit to a medieval fair, this is not for fans of historical drama only. It's a rouser for all times.