Quark gives Kira a Bajoran earring, which she immediately recognizes as belonging to Li Nalas, a Bajoran war hero long thought dead. Li is being held on the desert planet Cardassia IV, so Kira requests a runabout for a rescue mission. Sisko tells her he will consider it, but while he considers the matter, O'Brien discovers graffiti from an extremist faction called "The Circle" who want to expel all non-Bajorans from Bajor. Seeing this convinces Sisko that Bajor needs a leader like Li Nalas and he grants Kira the runabout.
Kira and O'Brien, disguising their runabout as a Lesseppian transport, travel to Cardassia IV and discover a labor camp with more than a dozen Bajorans. O'Brien pretends to solicit Kira to one of the soldiers, tricking him into lowering the force field that surrounds the camp. They rescue Li and several other prisoners. Before Kira and O'Brien return to DS9, Gul Dukat contacts Sisko to inform him that the Cardassian government has issued a formal apology and the remaining prisoners are en route to Bajor. Bajor's provisional government, on the other hand, chastises Kira's actions because they might have resulted in war with Cardassia.
DS9's Bajoran population greets Li Nalas as a returning hero. Sisko and Kira urge him to help bring stability to Bajor, but shortly thereafter Li is caught trying to stow away on a departing freighter. He relates to a puzzled Sisko that he never wanted to be a hero; he killed a Cardassian out of necessity and his fellow Bajorans eventually turned him into a legend. Sisko convinces Li to stay because Bajor needs a legend like him.
After a trip to Bajor, Li Nalas returns with Minister Jaro Essa, leader of the provisional government. The Chamber of Ministers has invented a new title for Li: "Navark." However, the title means little; seeing Li as a threat to their power, the politicians have made him liaison officer to DS9 and recalled Kira to Bajor.