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It stood about as high as Kip’s fork and was made up entirely of black feathers and wispy fur and enormous orange eyes with long eyelashes. Its chubby body wasn’t quite a square and wasn’t quite a circle, and the creature seemed to have no neck at all.
‘Oh, that’s just the mowl,’ said Leela, as if she got asked that all the time, which she probably did.
‘Mowl?’ echoed Kip and Albert together.
‘Yes. Mowl,’ she said, as though that explained everything they would ever need to know about mowls. ‘And make sure you say his name right or he gets really huffy. Just remember this: “How now brown mowl”.’
There was a moment’s silence before Kip and Albert both burst out laughing. The mowl looked up from his enthusiastic interest in Leela’s earring to stare at them sulkily.
‘You better not upset him,’ Leela warned, stroking the plush, black fur of the mowl’s tummy. ‘Half of him is cute and fluffy, but the other half can have quite a temper.’
The mowl made a lirrip noise, somewhere between a kitten’s purr and a pigeon’s coo, and burped.
‘Its tail looks like a furry, burnt sausage!’ Albert managed to splutter between giggles.
‘Those eyes are nearly bigger than its head!’ said Kip. ‘Is that a beak?’ There was a clatter of cutlery on the next table. In response, the mowl produced a melodious rumble that could only be described as a wurble. ‘Look! It has hands!’ Kip said. ‘They’re like little otter hands!’
The mowl looked around lazily and stretched its tufty legs that ended in glinting talons. Its deft brown hands hovered for a second, some sharp claws poked out of its fingertips, and it began to comb Leela’s hair.
‘Where did it come from?’ Albert asked.
‘He. At least I think he’s a he. Guess, and if you get it right I’ll tell you,’ said Leela.
‘You hatched an egg you found?’ said Kip.
The mowl hopped off Leela’s shoulder and poked with one claw at a baked bean on Albert’s plate.
‘You smooshed four … no, five animals together? Baby penguin … otter … mole …? A fat blackbird? Something with giant eyes … a seal cub?’
The mowl wurbled and a long, thin orange tongue flicked out to lick the baked bean …
The mowl looked up at Leela and, when he blinked, the first pair of eyelids was trailed by a second pair coated in orange scales …
They followed the sounds to find the mowl swooping above the old oak, and Leela looking up at him. With his feathery wings fanned in flight, glittering orange scales underneath flashed into view.