Uncle Warney (Warnard Elijah Stokes)

Warnard means “protecting friend, defender”

1 Peter 2:9 (KJV) — But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Warnard Elijah Stokes, 83, was aptly named, seeing as how the good Lord ordained him as a prophet. Warney is forever having visions of things to come and warning the good folks of Ashboro that they'd better get right with their Maker. People laugh and call the self-appointed caretaker of Burnt Swamp “strange,” but they'd be smart to heed his admonitions, because God shows Warney things—deep things. Being a great-uncle to Gavin, Molly, and Eric, Warney feels a grave responsibility to pray for, protect, and guide the youngsters—especially Gavin because he is heir to the Burnt Swamp diary, and the very fate of Ashboro will one day rest on this unlikely hero.

Warney was among the 366 wounded in WWII when his ship, the USS Wasp, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine southeast of San Cristobal Island. He doesn't like to talk about it, but shrapnel in his back left him with an unusually straight spine and ever-present walking stick. He doesn't complain. Some people have ailments that serve as a weather barometer, but Warney's back measures hot and cold with regard to spiritual matters, enabling him to discern good and evil that others wouldn't notice.

Warney never married. Except for church-going and bike rides into town for groceries, he pretty much keeps to himself. Ugly Cat keeps him company in the shack Warney calls home - the abandoned slave quarters of the Stokes estate he and his sister inherited. The estate deteriorated after the Civil War, but the dilapidated homeplace still warms Warney's heart. After all, it was in the attic - the highest place in the big old house - where he first felt the call of the Holy Spirit during his time of recuperation. Now, twice a day, every day, Warney takes the short trek from his shack on the fringe of Burnt Swamp to the Stokes estate, to groom and feed his two beautiful Clydesdales, Candy and Drew.

More concerned about the inner man than the outward, Warney's tangible needs are few: an inhaler for his asthma, his hand-whittled walking stick, deerskin moccasins, a couple of clean bandanas, jeans and a sleeveless sweatshirt, and a gray riding jacket with maroon trim for dress. He keeps his balding head shaved, like the stubble on his chin. Lean and muscular, except for his pot belly, Warney is strong, bony, and wrinkled. Because he spends so much time walking the perimeter of the Swamp and praying, his skin is leathery and tanned, even in winter. Except for the one-hole outhouse with the broken wooden seat that sometimes pinches him if he doesn't watch out, and a pesky buzzard named Picky, Warney is as content as a tick buried in the fur of a dog's neck. Warney loves living in the Swamp. Well, not exactly in the Swamp, but closer to it than anybody else would want to be.

Oh, and something else you should know: Warney has secrets—like the Burnt Swamp diary he has kept hidden under his floorboards all these years.