In one of the legend's variations, the three brothers went hunting together but each of them followed a different prey and eventually they all traveled in different directions. Rus went to the east, Čech headed to the west to settle on the Říp Mountain rising up from the Bohemian hilly countryside, while Lech traveled to the north until he came across a magnificent white eagle guarding her nest. Startled but impressed by this spectacle, he decided to settle there. He named his settlement (gród) Gniezno (Polish adjective from gniazdo, or "nest") and adopted the White Eagle as his coat-of-arms which remains a symbol of Poland to this day.
A variant of this legend, involving only two brothers, is also known in the Czech Republic. As described by Alois Jirásek in Staré pověsti české, two brothers came to Central Europe from the east: Čech and Lech. As in the Polish version, Čech is identified as the founder of the Czech nation (Češi pl.) and Lech as the founder of the Polish nation. Čech had to climb up the mountain Říp, look to the landscape and settled with a tribe in the area, whereas Lech continued to the lowlands of the north.
A similar legend (with partly changed names) was also registered in folk tales at two separated locations in Croatia: in the Kajkavian dialect of Krapina in Zagorje (northern Croatia) and in the Chakavian dialect of Poljica on the Adriatic Sea (central Dalmatia). The Croatian variant was described and analysed in detail by S. Sakač in 1940.
The earliest Polish mention of Lech, Čech and Rus is found in the Chronicle of Greater Poland written in 1295 in Gniezno or Poznań. In Bohemian chronicles, Čech appears on his own or with Lech only; he is first mentioned as Bohemus in Cosmas' chronicle (1125).
The legend suggests the common ancestry of the Poles, the Czechs and the Ruthenians (or modern-day Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians) and illustrates the fact that as early as the 13th century, at least three different Slavic peoples were aware of being racially- and linguistically-interrelated, and, indeed, derived from a common root stock. Genetic data may validate this element of the legend (see: Haplogroup R1a1).
The legend also attempts to explain the etymology of these people's ethnonyms: Lechia (another name for Poland), the Czech lands (including Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia), and Ruś (Ruthenia). In fact, the term "Lechia" derives from the tribe of Lędzianie. See also: Etymology of Rus and derivatives.
A prominent Renaissance Polish man of letters, Jan Kochanowski, in his essay on the origin of the Slavs, makes no mention of the third "brother", Rus. Moreover, he dismisses the legend entirely, stating that "no historian who has taken up the subject of the Slavic nation [...] mentions any of those two Slavic leaders, Lech and Czech". He goes on to assume that "Czechy" and "Lachy" are quite probably the original names for the two nations, although he does not dismiss the possibility that there might have been a great leader by the name Lech whose name replaced the original and later forgotten name for the Polish nation.