Cecelia Holland's historical novels are tighter, sharper, better and better, as her character-rosters narrow -- as her dramatic situations of other times and places become more appropriate and convincing yet retain an invigorating alien chill. This is the tale of an unlikely friendship in the 5th century when Attila the Hun had consolidated his conquests. Young Dietric, son of the subject Gepid (German) King Ardaric, rebels against his Hun-hating father and joins the ""Little Toad"" Tacs, a feisty Hun warrior, in drinking companionship and official and unofficial forays. After aristocratic Romans propose and Attila shrewdly disposes, there is also a miniscule religious contretemps as a Christian monk and a Hun shaman engage in mutually instructive dialogue. But the iron inhumanities of war destroy brotherhood. After Attila's death the leaderless Huns disperse, the Germans move in, and Dietric, in the heady role of conqueror, leaves Tacs, now the enemy, to die, knowing full well that his old friend too would kill if he came too close. Symbolically Dietric moves off into darkness. There are still remnants of 20th-century ingenuousness in some of the dialogue but Miss Holland for the most part delivers a sound story of ancient conflict -- surefooted on those bleak plains.